The most common feeling toward the U.S. I have encountered is a kind of anger mixed with disappointment. Pakistanis are angry at the U.S. and consider it hypocritical because it has consistently supported dictatorship in Pakistan. Many are also baffled and furious because they see clearly the complicity of part of the Pakistani security forces with the Taliban on both sides of the border and cannot comprehend U.S. continued support for that same military.
They see a weak reaction by the U.S. to the virtual martial law decreed by General Musharraf. In particular they hear U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates say, "We are reviewing all of our assistance programs, although we are mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counterterrorism efforts." What they hear is, the U.S. will review its support for education and health programs, but it will continue its massive subsidy (an estimated $10 billion per year) to cover the cost of operations by the Pakistan military: the same military that has declared a pseudo-emergency (in reality, martial law), under which protesting lawyers have been beaten and hundreds of non-violent democratic political leaders arrested, while the militants continue their campaigns without hindrance.
Where is this policy getting us? Well, nowhere:
Let me describe the situation on the ground to which Musharraf has responded by suspending the constitution, arresting several senior judges, and detaining hundreds of non-violent democratic political leaders. According to sources in the Northwest Frontier Province, the Taliban (Afghan and Pakistani) have established an Islamic Emirate centered in Mirali, North Waziristan, the home base of Commander Jalaluddin Haqqani (Afghan Jadran from Khost) and his son Sirajuddin...The Emirate has established structures in all seven Tribal Agencies, though it is strongest in North and South Waziristan and has not penetrated the Shi'a areas of upper Kurram. Besides Pakistani and Afghan Pashtuns, its forces include the Uzbeks displaced from South Waziristan and others from the former USSR (collectively if not accurately called "Chechens"), whom the local people accuse of the greatest brutalities, such as the beheading of prisoners.
From these bases, the Emirate has launched its offensive in Swat and has infiltrated around Peshawar from several directions. Recently Taliban appeared in Qisakhani Bazaar in the old city of Peshawar and ordered traders to remove "un-Islamic" posters. There was no reaction from the police or administration. There are dozens of Taliban FM stations broadcasting calls to jihad in both the tribal agencies and the "settled" (administered) areas of NWFP. Not one of them has been shut down; instead the martial law regime has blocked transmissions of liberal cable television stations and blocked the Blackberry network used by the political elite.
So, although Musharraf uses the threat of terrorism as an excuse to seize power in the Pakistan, he is not using his powers to retaliate against the Taliban militants. Rather, he is acting against moderate opposition to his regime, mostly by going after the judges and lawyers that would demand the upholding of the Pakistani constitution. In the meantime, actual terrorists are given free reign. Why? Because they do not pose the threat to Musharraf's power that the Pakistani people themselves do.
What does this mean for us? That once again we write off concerns over democracy and accommodate dictatorship and tyranny, only with the now signature Bush approach of doing it in a way that is detrimental to our interests.
I was fortunate enough to hear a little of the Terry Gross interview with Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid this morning on the way to work. He made an interesting and troubling point about the Taliban that appears to be supported by Rubin's comments above, that whereas the pre-invasion Taliban were mostly nationalist in nature, the post-invasion Taliban have been infiltrated by adherents to al Qaeda's jihadist philosophy. Rashid said that instead of confining themselves to toppling Karzai in Afghanistan, they have now set their sights on spreading their jihad further into Pakistan and-Rashid fears-even further into Central Asia, into Uzbekistan and Chechnya.
The Taliban/Al Qaeda militants of Afghnistan and Western Pakistan pose one of the greatest threats to the stability of Central Asia, and are a growing national security threat to us. Our devil's bargain with Musharraf in Pakistan has done nothing to reduce this threat, and instead has only magnified it. It's past time to change course and seek broader democratic transformation in Pakistan. We can start by condemning Musharraf and calling for him to surrender his dictatorial powers.
UPDATE: Apparently, part of the problem is there isn't anyone in the government who knows a damn thing about Pakistan. You know, our major ally in the "war on terror."