The New York Times, January 22, 2008
For more than a decade, Pakistan's powerful and secretive intelligence service has fueled a treacherous dynamic in South Asia by supporting Islamic militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Now comes the distressing, but not surprising, news that the ISI, or Inter-Services Intelligence, has lost control of some of these Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked networks. The militants have turned on their former patrons and helped carry out a record number of suicide attacks inside Pakistan in 2007, including possibly the one that killed Benazir Bhutto.
The report in The New York Times last week is one more alarming sign of instability in the nuclear-armed state that is supposed to be America's leading ally in the war on terrorism. It further confirms the failings of President Pervez Musharraf's government in fighting extremists, despite $10 billion in American aid since 9/11.
It apparently seemed like a good idea in the 1990s for the ISI to back militants as a proxy force to compete with India in Kashmir and to exert influence in neighboring Afghanistan. (The United States contributed to the problem in the 1980s when it also funneled funds through ISI to militants fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan.) Now it is a grave threat to Pakistan. The insurgency recently has begun spilling out of the lawless tribal areas along the Afghan border and into the city of Peshawar.
Mr. Musharraf has rejected the idea of unilateral moves by the United States to chase Taliban and Qaeda militants on Pakistani soil. But Adm. William J. Fallon, the American commander of the Central Command, said that Pakistani officials are receptive to having American troops train and advise their forces in counterinsurgency. He said the assistance will be "more robust."
The United States, already bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, must be extremely careful about further military entanglement in Pakistan. As a long-term solution, it must encourage political and legal reforms in the tribal areas and spend as quickly as possible a new $750 million allocation by Congress that could improve the lives of Pakistanis and deprive militants of new converts. Other aid must be heavily focused on building democratic institutions.
The Times also reported that the ISI manipulated Pakistan's last national election. Many Pakistanis already suspected as much and fear it could be repeated in the Feb. 18 parliamentary vote. The only way for Mr. Musharraf to regain any credibility is by ensuring that the election is free and fair.
Jailed activists must be released. Ousted judges must be restored. Journalists must be able to report freely. International monitors must have maximum access to assess the voting. And Mr. Musharraf must work cooperatively with whatever leaders the election produces. The signs aren't encouraging. Instead, ever more paranoid, he directed his staff to develop a strategy for countering "Western propaganda." He's his own worst enemy and increasingly Pakistan's as well.
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