Saturday, July 26, 2008

Checking Up on Pakistan

Fed up with the deteriorating military situation in Afghanistan, Bush has finally raised an eyebrow high enough to politely request the company of new Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani to visit in Washington and discuss the current strategy.

To be frank, Gilani's commitment to fighting the Taliban appears rather weak, most clearly by his desperate insistence that his commitment is strong. President Karzai does not have to make clear his commitments to fighting terror because he actually does it. His claims to the US that the War on Terror is a war in the interest of Pakistan is largely at odds with the opinion of his constituents: that "doing the bidding of the US" is what's causing their problems in Northwest Pakistan. Sorry, guys, but it turns out that radical Muslim extremists are going to try to occupy your country and subvert your rule of law even if you're not a US ally.

Gilani's primary problem is that he's not willing to ruffle any feathers. His refusal to confront Musharraf over the Supreme Court left him without a key Minister in his cabinet, and lukewarm support from the DPP. His refusal to anger the Taliban into full scale warfare has let them grow and prosper in the Northwest, and has pushed Americans to the verge of withdrawing their support for the existence of the Pakistani government, and--if Mr. McCain is elected--possibly invade Northwest Pakistan to take care of the Taliban themselves. Mr. Gilani's indecisiveness and need to please has left him paralyzed as the security situation in his country spirals out of control, and insurgent problems spread into India (a now-close ally of the US that, if fed up with such attacks, might work together with the US in invading Pakistan, or at least leaving enough troops on Pakistan's southeast border and enough aircraft carriers off its coast that it would be crippled from being able to fight American forces).

So Gilani is in trouble. It's unclear whether he knows whether further inaction is going to lead to crisis, but the Bush administration is almost certainly trying to convince him that he has no choice but to move.

The US is also throwing in some bones to make it easier. Bush asked congress to shift over $260 million from anti-terror operations in Pakistan to upgrade their ageing F-16 wing. Bush may also be willing to make diplomatic concessions--something, perhaps, to the effect of denouncing Musharraf (which would mean that opposing Musharraf would now be the US-backed and party-backed option, making it easy for Mr. Gilani to please the public).

Gilani has had one good idea that the US has employed in Iraq--using local pro-government militias to convince enemy militants to lay down their arms. Hearts-and-minds is an important part of any counter-terror campaign. But alone, it is useless. Alone, it simply an appeasement policy. Throwing carrots at an extremist enemy is not going to do much unless one has a stick poised ready to fall down. Hopefully, for the sake of US troops in Afghanistan and its government's future, Bush will convince Mr. Gilani to bring the stick to bear.