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Hands off Pakistan

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POSTED: January 22, 2008 5:03 a.m.
“The assassination of Benazir Bhutto was not an attack on this brave woman alone; it was an attack upon democracy, freedom and the United States.” This statement by Asa Hutchinson, former undersecretary of homeland security, was typical of the reaction of the American political and media establishments.
The claim that the assassination was an attack on democracy and freedom is dubious because Bhutto’s two spells as prime minister of Pakistan were not notable for either one. Whether it was an attack on the United States depends on what that means. It certainly was not an attack on the American people. How could it be construed that way, unless one has such an imperialist notion of “our interests” that nothing can happen in the world without impinging on them?
But if by “United States” we mean the policies of the current administration, then indeed it was such an attack. Bhutto, after all, favored bringing U.S. military forces into Pakistan, according to Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst and region specialist. If that’s an option President Bush planned to exercise, the loss of Bhutto is a grave blow to his policy.
It is during a crisis that the establishment hoists its true colors for all to see. With few exceptions, the most prominent voices in politics and the news media are chanting in unison that Bhutto’s assassination proves that the United States needs to be more involved in Pakistan than it has been.
Could the United States be more involved? American presidents have been meddling in Pakistani politics for a long time. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan regarded the brutal military dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who had come to power by overthrowing — and later executing — Bhutto’s father, the elected prime minister, Zulifqar Ali Bhutto, as a key ally. Once again the U.S. government used the Cold War as an excuse to back a despot.
Shortly before the current Pakistan president, Pervez Musharraf, staged a coup and named himself chief executive, Bill Clinton had pressured then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to get Musharraf, who was then the head of the army, to pull his forces out of the part of Kashmir controlled by rival India. Sharif was thus perceived as a puppet of the United States. That could not have helped his fortunes.
Since 9/11, of course, Musharraf has been crowned a key ally in Bush’s “war on terror.” Some $10 billion in cash and arms has poured into the dictator’s coffers. The largess did not slow down when Musharraf suspended the constitution, sacked the Supreme Court, declared martial law, and arrested lawyers and civil-libertarians — all to fight terrorism and protect democracy.
When even Bush couldn’t escape the fact that the Pakistanis were outraged about Musharraf, his administration tried to engineer an unlikely political marriage between the dictator and Bhutto. Whether her death came at the hands of Musharraf’s security forces, parts of which have notorious ties to radical Islamic elements, or al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the murderers’ opportunity has the mark of bumbling U.S. interventionism all over it. Before someone calls this a “blame America first” point of view, note that former Bush UN ambassador John Bolton told Fox News, “We in effect helped — helped — precipitate this dynamic that led to her tragic assassination.”
What is so fascinating is how impervious the political and media establishments are to the lessons of reality. After all that’s happened, the dominant voices still insist that Bush redouble efforts to determine Pakistan’s future. The arrogance and pretense of knowledge displayed by such people are astounding. Haven’t they learned that America’s political leaders can’t possibly know what they would need to know to run Pakistan? Their meddling here creates one mess after another — how can they hope to succeed there?
But Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world, we’re told incessantly. If that’s true, it’s all the more reason for the United States to keep its hands off. Intervention only creates and provokes enemies. That endangers the American people, precisely the opposite of what the Bush administration says it wants to do.

Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) and editor of The Freeman magazine.
 

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