THE BLOG
09/19/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Post (Perverse) Pervez Pakistan

Rather than face impeachment, Pakistan's disgraced President Pervez Musharraf finally resigned. So ends (more or less) America's first post-9/11 bilateral era with Pakistan, and the scorecard is utterly mixed at best with ominous prospects for the second era under Pakistan's newly-elected democratic government.

For nearly 9 years, Gen. Musharraf was our double-gaming, unreliable (and certainly undemocratic) "ally" in our enterprise to mop up what Rumsfeld- Franks & Co. failed with grave consequences to mop up inside Afghanistan and Pakistan after 9/11. Yes, we did at times obtain Musharraf's cooperation. Some of Al Qaeda's leading commanders are dead or in jail because he cooperated at a time and place of his choosing.

Despite that occasional and important assistance in the struggle against Al Qaeda...to put it mildly, we are worse off in Pakistan and in Afghanistan today than we ever have been since 9/11. If it is any consolation, the White House can't even muster its usual false bravado to camouflage the deteriorating situation.

So where does Musharraf's departure leave us insofar as the global effort to eradicate Al Qaeda from its haunts in northwest Pakistan? In one helluva pickle, to put it bluntly.

Having stuck with Musharraf for so long, U.S. ties with Pakistan are at dangerously low ebb. As much as I welcome the return of democratic rule to Pakistan, its hydra-headed coalition is unstable and at best indifferent to the militancy that is undermining Pakistan's own internal security. Moreover, neither major political party is willing to invest much domestic political capital in a struggle against extremism within its own borders that most Pakistanis view as America's war and not their own.

The consequences are enormous for our security and the survivability of a stable and secure Afghanistan.

Just today, with scores of suicide bombers infiltrating from Pakistan into Afghanistan, ten French soldiers died in a blast just miles outside of Kabul. That attack, along with the other attacks on NATO forces in recent days, is a wake up call that the situation inside Afghanistan is going from desperately bad to desperately disasterous.

Every time I hear Gen. Petreaeus or Sen. McCain exhalt their so-called defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq, I just keep picturing an underground railroad of suicide bombers making their way to Pakistan from Iraq to blow up Americans and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

And if we needed any more reminder how bad things have gotten, just last week I attended a briefing by Ted Gistaro, the senior U.S. terrorism analyst on Al Qaeda, who asserted that Al Qaeda has a far stronger foothold in northwest Pakistan than just a year ago. Teamed up with what seems to be an endless supply of Pakistani extremists, Al Qaeda is regrouping, possibly with the aid of Pakistan's renegade Directorate for Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), which has been the black widow of spy agencies supporting the Taliban and feeding American intel to it. At the same time, according to Gistaro, Al Qaeda has "replenished its bench" with a more diverse group of operatives (NYT 8-13).
The ISI is a renegade agency inside Pakistan, seemingly unanswerable to any civilian authority. It is as much a danger to us as is any other extremist group given its track record in recent months.

Want more bad news? Musharraf was the chap controlling the nuclear button in Pakistan, and now he is gone. Who is going to be watching Pakistan's nuclear installations? Who is going to prevent Pakistan's nuclear scientists from selling their souls to the highest extremist bidder?

So while Pakistan's warring factions fight over who is going to become Pakistan's next president, leaving the rest of the mess to others, what are we going to do? More importantly, is there anything we can do?

There isn't any place in the world quite like Pakistan. All the ingredients are there for an unmitigated implosion unless the civilian authorities stop fiddling. This is inspite of a strong, moderate middle class that understands the dangers the country is facing.

We can hope that Pakistan's new military leader, General Kiyani, will encourage the civilian leadership to focus on the essentials, but Kiyani is loathe to bring the military back as the arbiter of Pakistan's domestic affairs. Even if he did, that is not going to solve the fundamentals that are causing the decay of Pakistan's democracy.

I applaud Sen. Obama's muscular attitude toward Pakistan. Long ago, he asserted that if Pakistan won't finish off Al Qaeda and stop the Taliban, well then, NATO has the right to engage in hot pursuit against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. For all of McCain's criticism of Obama, the best that McCain could muster about Obama's remarks is to criticize Obama for "...wanting to bomb an ally." We have no alternative but to engage in hot pursuit, even if this angers a straighjacketed civilian government. Could you believe the critique from Mr. McCommander in Chief?

There are no good answers over what to do about Pakistan. Only painful choices fraught with adverse consequences.

To prevent Pakistan from become a supernova of extremism, the U.S. and its NATO allies will have to match hot pursuit with:

-- A NATO-European Union supported economic rescue package to prevent the collapse of Pakistan's economy.

-- Appointment of a Special NATO Envoy to Pakistan who will have the authority to negotiate and oversee a new agreement with Pakistan's civilian leadership over its anti-extremist agenda including joint military operations on Pakistan's Afghanistan border.

-- Diplomatic efforts to encourage Muslim allies of Pakistan to promote Muslim-to-Muslim public diplomacy initiatives inside Pakistan to build greater domestic support against militants.

-- International Atomic Energy Agency support to help oversee the protection of Pakistan's nuclear installations.

-- Accelerated and intense negotiations with the leaders of Pakistan's coalition to establish the best possible effective mechanisms to regain civilian control over the ISI.

Does all this add up to a better tomorrow for the cause of a stable, secure Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not necessarily.

In the end, the second era of U.S.- Pakistani relations most likely will be characterized by the deployment of more NATO-led forces inside Afghanistan, more terrorism in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and a seriously deteriorating internal security situation inside Pakistan.

Hopefully, that second era will end with the eradication of Al Qaeda, a return to moderate civilian control in all respects in Pakistan, and the final defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan. I won't hold my breathe on how long this second era will last.

This is the perverse Pervez legacy our Pakistani ally has left for us and our allies.