As a political crisis boils in Pakistan American analysts both inside and outside the government are expressing new doubts that President Musharraf will be able to hold onto power through the summer.
Over the past month, the military regime in Islamabad has faced a rising threat of violent jihadis in its capital, as well as the struggle between the president and the suspended chief justice of the country, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The twin challenges have led some analysts in the American intelligence community to begin questioning whether Pakistan's military, traditionally General Musharraf's most reliable ally, will support the current regime for much longer. (NY Sun)
If Pakistan were to fall into the hands of the Islamists, it would be bad news indeed, because not only would we lose a strategically located ally, but we would also face a nuclear Islamic nation that's recently been the recipient of considerable U.S. military aid.
Fortunately, most analysts think that's not in the stars. They see Musharaff's weakness as a sign that the military has lost faith in his ability to keep the Islamists at bay, a perception hightened by an incident at Islamabad's Red Mosque, that did not receive much coverage in the West.
Some Taliban had seized some Pakistan police and were hiding in the mosque. After some negotiation, Musharaff may have asked his military to take the mosque. They may have refused, or he may not have given the order. In any case, the militants got out, unharmed. Not a good day for Musharaff.
The analysts quoted by the NY Sun are pretty much of one accord:
- Former State Dept. Pakistan expert John Markey: "There is the potential rosy Pakistan next spring, with some sort of negotiated relationship where the military feel reasonably comfortable with a new civilian government. But that is if we get that far. For the chief justice issue crisis, the political debate, the street protests that have been associated with that, people are raising questions about Musharraf's stability in a way that I have not quite heard before."
Former deputy head of CIA operations Rob Richer: "He believes his successor has got to be someone who supports the military but it won't necessarily be someone in uniform. There's no obvious candidate. … At this point, he's looking for the right person, a right-winger, someone who understands the army."
- Marvin Weinbaum of the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research: "He may be able to get through the next few months, get to October. That is the earliest date for elections. But he is so damaged, his credibility will be questioned."
It's times like this that we need powerful influence on the ground -- and for all the flak he takes about his supposed lack of diplomatic skills, President Bush has established deep and critical connections with Pakistan at a time when we really need them.