Amid the journalistic outpouring on the killing of terrorist mastermind Osama bin-Laden, I was struck by this Daily Beast opinion piece by novelist Salman Rushdie, who focused on the issue of Pakistan.
Osama bin-Laden, the world’s most wanted man, was found living at the end of a dirt road 800 yards from the Abbottabad military academy, Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point or Sandhurst, in a military cantonment where soldiers are on every street corner, just about 80 miles from the Pakistani capital Islamabad. This extremely large house had neither a telephone nor an Internet connection. And in spite of this we are supposed to believe that Pakistan didn’t know he was there, and that the Pakistani intelligence, and/or military, and/or civilian authorities did nothing to facilitate his presence in Abbottabad, while he ran al Qaeda, with couriers coming and going, for five years?
The time may have come, he said, to “declare it a terrorist state and expel it from the comity of nations.”
The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg disagrees. Today he blogged this:
Yes, there are most likely elements of the Pakistani power structure that are sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and some of these elements might have helped Bin Laden, or at least turned a blind eye to his presence. But: These elements, if they do exist, do not represent the entirety of Pakistan. They certainly don’t represent the civilian leadership of the country, a leadership we should be buttressing, not demonizing. I’ll say it again: Our only option in Pakistan is to provide aid and support for government and economic reform, health care, and universal education. And we can fight terrorism at the same time. But what we can’t do is declare Pakistan an enemy. That would be ridiculous.
I get Rushdie’s argument and see some big holes in Goldberg’s; it’s hard for me to believe supporting economic reform, health care and universal education is going to fix this unholy mess of a country.
But I also see Goldberg’s point about the limits of U.S. leverage; Pakistan is a “well-armed, nuclear-weapons state of almost 200 million people,” and we’re not likely to go to war there – especially with our troops mired in neighboring Afghanistan and our new adventure in Libya.
The difference between the two writers may reflect the real bottom line of our Pakistan policy: after decades of ineffective, ambivalent U.S. policy in the region, our policy options may come down to a choice between bad and worse.
Yes, Iran’s potential nuclear program is a problem, but I’m a lot more worried about the big stockpile of weapons Pakistan, with its dysfunctional government, already has, and about the possibility those weapons could end up in the hands of fanatics eager to strike catastrophic blows against the United States and Israel.