After all, this is a country whose provinces bordering on Afghanistan, the Northwest Frontier and Baluchistan, are ruled by a coalition of Muslim parties sympathetic to the Taliban. Tribal regions along the border play host to the Taliban and perhaps Osama himself. Elements of Pakistan's military and intelligence services are Islamist. The nuclear proliferator A.Q. Khan and Osama are far more popular than Musharraf or Bush. Lose Pakistan in the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban and you lose the Afghan war.
In recent elections in the Near and Middle East, many of them called at the insistence of President Bush, the winners were Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Moqtada al-Sadr and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
What are the primary U.S. interests today in Pakistan? That its nuclear weapons remain in secure and friendly hands and that Pakistan remains an ally in the war against al-Qaeda.
Whatever happens in the elections Jan. 8, or later, the United States should retain close ties to Pakistan's military. As Rome's emperor Septimus Severus counseled his sons on his deathbed, "Pay the soldiers. The rest do not matter."
But the United States must begin now to look at the longer term.
It seems clear that we are so hated in that country that any leader like Bhutto, seen as a friend and ally to the United States, is ever at mortal risk. Musharraf has himself been a repeated target of assassins.
Second, our ability to influence events is severely limited. What does democracy mean in a country where 60 percent of the people are illiterate and parties are fiefdoms of families and political instruments of religious radicals?
As Burke reminded us, "It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters."
We need to ask ourselves hard questions. Has the blood we have shed in Afghanistan and Iraq, the hundreds of billions we have plunged into these wars, and into foreign aid, made us safer? Has it made us more friends than enemies? Perhaps, as is seen today in Anbar, locals are better at dealing with al-Qaeda than even our American soldiers.
Russia, China, India, and Japan are closer to Pakistan than we. Yet, none of them feels the need we apparently do to be so deeply enmeshed in her internal affairs.
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