A Tale of Two Pakistans: Musharraf's Dramatic Claims Unwittingly Highlight Contradictions

Musharraf has gone to curious lengths to reveal that Pakistan is compensated for its anti-terror cooperation—still a quid-pro-quo enterprise for Pakistan.

President Pervez Musharraf during his visit to Washington made a series of statements dramatic enough to cheer any book publisher. In his promotion of his memoir (which he did not launch until after his joint interview with President Bush), Musharraf gave television viewers a tour of the exclamatory remarks in his book, including a charge that the CIA paid Pakistan millions to extradite Al-Qaeda suspects and that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage after 9/11 threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age if it did not cooperate-terms that Armitage denies using.

Regardless of what words Armitage used, he admits to delivering a strong ultimatum to Pakistan. And whether the CIA paid for prisoners or not, Musharraf has gone to curious lengths to communicate the message that Pakistan is compensated for its cooperation with Washington. Those revelations illustrate Pakistan's defining national-security calculus: the sense that counter-terror initiatives may satisfy Washington but can hurt Pakistan by destabilizing the country. Pakistan views its cooperation with Washington more as a quid-pro-quo enterprise than an endeavor that benefits Pakistan.

Indeed, news this summer demonstrates both the continued importance of Pakistani cooperation in the global war on terrorism-and the deep roots of terror in that country. Pakistan's capture and interrogation of British subject Rashid Rauf helped Britain defeat a dramatic plan for massed bomb attacks on trans-Atlantic airliners. Almost simultaneously, Pakistan in a well-publicized move closed down a Quetta hospital for insurgents wounded in Afghanistan. The hundreds of recent arrests in Pakistan include the capture of Hafeez Saeed, founder of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group and head of a terrorist front charity, Jamaat-al Dawaa. And Al-Qaeda's Ayman al Zawahiri issues regular death threats against Musharraf-which have resulted in three assassination attempts.

But U.S. policy must reconcile these facts with equally strong evidence that Pakistan remains a country where terrorist organizations recruit, train and operate. The insurgency in Afghanistan uses Pakistan as a base for its attacks on U.S. and NATO troops. Al-Qaeda cells operate in major cities. Osama bin Laden likely remains hidden in Pakistan.

Insurgent prisoners captured in Afghanistan tell the same story as their predecessors a decade ago:  recruited in Karachi, trained near Islamabad, sent across the Durand line to fight in Afghanistan. Training in Pakistan is not limited to low-level Kalashnikov-carriers. The video wills of 7/7 London terrorists suggest at least two trained in Pakistan.

Ambivalent on Afghanistan

Pakistani foreign policy towards Afghanistan has the same unreconciled dichotomies. In response to Afghanistan's appeals to Pakistan for help in halting the cross-border insurgency, Islamabad has pressed Afghanistan to agree to the Durand line as the international border, something that no Kabul government-even the Taliban that was heavily dependent on Pakistan and did not have to get elected-could agree to. At the same time, Pakistan has often expressed desire for better relations with Kabul and many of its actions bear this out, including the 23 August Tripartite Commission agreement on border security.

In the past, powerful intelligence agencies implemented Pakistani policies that saw Afghanistan through the distorting prism of internal politics and a counter-India strategy-leading Islamabad to try to install and maintain, by armed force, Kabul governments "friendly" to Islamabad, Islamic in ideology and of Pushtun ethnicity. Pakistani policy was implemented through a series of chosen Afghan proxies-all of them Pushtun and practicing the politics of Islamic radicalism. Islamabad's continued reluctance to uproot insurgents raises the issue of the continued influence of Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and its compulsion to achieve Pakistan's "strategic depth" in Afghanistan vis-a-vis its nuclear neighbor India.

Despite U.S. statements to the contrary, much of the Pakistani leadership-especially the military-believes that the United States will eventually disengage from Afghanistan as it did in 1989-leaving Pakistan to fill the vacuum. The United States and its coalition partners must make clear that Pakistan can and must do more against insurgents and terrorists. The main beneficiary of such action will be Pakistan. By demonstrating its commitment to Afghanistan, the United States will make it easier for Musharraf to restrain those governmental organizations that still see insurgency as a valid policy tool for Afghanistan. Neither the international terrorist nor the cross-border insurgent wishes the government in Islamabad well nor even considers it legitimate. Paying the political costs for action now is necessary to assure the future of Pakistan.

Blowback and Ironies

U.S. officials are naturally inclined to press Pakistan to deal with terrorism overtly and aggressively. But while Washington should push Islamabad to do more, it must acknowledge the potential for backlash. The highly visible yet potentially counterproductive actions that Washington applauds-such as large-scale military operations along the border and air strikes-should be avoided. In Waziristan, Pakistan is reportedly reasserting power in the old, quiet way, through diplomacy, bribes and threats-turning away from the approach urged on them by United States, which prompted Pakistan's deployment of 80,000 troops and resulted in the deaths of some 500 to 800 of them. Reverting back to the time-tested tactics of maintaining power may yield dividends.