Monday, November 05, 2007

Ninety Nukes

I've been hoping for the best regarding martial law in Pakistan.

While unhappy with the development, I had some hope that the purpose of martial law was to battle the jihadis and not to suppress the regime opponents pressing for elections.

Unfortunately, the whole operation seems aimed at the non-jihadi population that opposes military rule:

Police fired tear gas and battered thousands of lawyers protesting President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's decision to impose emergency rule, as Western allies threatened to review aid to the troubled Muslim nation. More than 1,500 people have been arrested in 48 hours, and authorities put a stranglehold on independent media.

We are constrained in our reaction by our need for Pakistan's help just to have access to our military forces fighting in landlocked Afghanistan:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting China, said Monday that the U.S. may take other steps but both he and Rice suggested the administration doesn't want to disrupt its partnership with Pakistan in fighting al-Qaida and other militants — a relationship that dates back to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We are reviewing all of our assistance programs, although we are mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counterterrorism efforts," Gates said on Monday.

A day earlier, Rice noted that a significant portion of U.S. aid "is directly related to the counterterrorism mission" and said that while the aid program to Islamabad must be reviewed in the wake of the Musharraf move, "I would be very surprised if anyone wants the president to ignore of set aside our concerns about terrorism."

The Pakistanis know they have us by the short hairs. We can't protest what they do too strongly or our entire war effort in Afghanistan is at risk. (Which is why talk of forcefully going after bin Laden in Pakistan was always a foolish suggestion. Without our supply lines through Pakistan, we'd have few options to supply our troops in Afghanistan.) This is the price of foreign policy realism.

Of course, if we had a friendly Iran that would allow us to supply our forces in Afghanistan, we'd cut the Gordian Knot that plagues us in fighting bin Laden and pushing a nuclear-armed Pakistan toward democracy, clean government, and greater stability:

Now, our access to Afghanistan is from the north through the unstable "Stans" and back through an increasingly unfriendly Russia; or through Pakistan which we have to coddle to keep land-locked Afghanistan from being cut off from us.

Open up a supply route through Iran to Afghanistan and suddenly we don't need to be quite so reliant on our Central Asian bases or so careful with a Pakistan that will not crack down on the Taliban who hide and organize inside Pakistan. We won't have to be so shy when it comes to hunting bin Laden there, either.

I want Pakistan to defeat their jihadis and remain a friend of ours. But we are in a tough position because of Afghanistan's geography in pushing Pakistan toward a normal existence free of jihadi influence. Reduce Pakistan's importance in fighting in Afghanistan and they have less leverage to resist our pressure to reform and crack down on the fanatics.

Free Iran from the rule of the mullahs and our freedom of action in the region expands greatly.

But please don't think this is all about us and how we react. India sits in the shadow of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal with missile flight times to targets in India measured in mere minutes. Would somebody in Pakistan seek a fight with India to distract the people? Would Islamists manage to fire a nuke off. Might India worry so much about either that they try a preemptive strike?

Strategypage states that Pakistan has more than 90 nuclear warheads in their arsenal. So this isn't just another game of musical chairs in some Third World backwater palace that doesn't really affect us.

Have a nice day.