Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Pakistan: Headache for Next President

Yesterday, Pakistan test fired a cruise missile capable of delivering either a conventional or a nuclear payload. The missile has a range of about 310 miles and is primarily seen as a deterrent in the ongoing struggle between India and Pakistan. (BBC: Pakistan launches cruise missile).

Pakistan made waves a few years ago when they joined the nuclear club and launched a flurry of diplomatic desperation talks including the US and India. A visit by Secretary of State Rumsfeld to both Pakistan and India managed to defuse the situation at least temporarily, but in all likelihood the current state of relative calm is only a brief interlude.

In a recent speech, President Bush made reference to Pakistan as part of an overall goal to bring Democracy to the "Arab World". (We'll gloss over the fact that Pakistan is not an Arab country. We know what he meant.) In my view, a democratic Pakistan is about the worst thing that can happen in that region. As things stand now, Pakistan will likely be the greatest headache facing the 44th President of the United States. Sometime during the tenure of our next President, there is the increasing likelihood that there will be a change at the top in Pakistan. That, not Iran and not North Korea, poses the greatest danger to the US and our allies.

A Democratic Pakistan - something I see as impractical at best and more than likely impossible - would virtually guarantee a fundamentalist Islamic government with very strong ties to terrorist organizations including al Qaeda. Pakistan being a nuclear power, that essentially means nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists; not a pleasant prospect.

While the present Pakistani leadership is cooperating with the US in the War on Terror, albeit with numerous restrictions that have hindered our ability to contain terror cells in that region, the populace openly supports radical Islamic terror groups. Many consider bin Laden and other leaders of al Qaeda to be heroes, not villains. Once Musharrif is out of power, and bear in mind that he has been the target of 4 assassination attempts, there is a strong likelihood that his successor will be very anti-American and is also likely to have closer ties to terrorist organizations.

When Americans take to the polls in the 2008 election, national security will still be the biggest issue facing us. Conflict with Iran and probably the status of Iraq will fill the headlines, but it is Pakistan that the winner of that election will have to confront. It is Pakistan, not Iran, that is the America's greatest threat.


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