That question is likely to bounce around the buck-passing corridors of power in Washington D.C. over the next four years. No matter whether it’s President McCain or President Obama doing the blaming, George W. Bush will likely be held responsible, as he will for so many bad things in the next quarter-century or so.
Our Pakistan policy has been flawed for decades, but in defense of Mr. Bush and all the others who have had to deal with it, it’s conceivable that there was nothing that the United States could do to improve the situation. Since 1947 Pakistan has been a failed state in the making, and now that failure is finally upon us:
Intelligence Report: U.S. Antiterror Ally Pakistan ‘On the Edge’
WASHINGTON — A growing al Qaida -backed insurgency, combined with the Pakistani army’s reluctance to launch an all-out crackdown, political infighting and energy and food shortages are plunging America’s key ally in the war on terror deeper into turmoil and violence, says a soon-to-be completed U.S. intelligence assessment.
A U.S. official who participated in drafting the top secret National Intelligence Estimate said it portrays the situation in Pakistan as “very bad.” Another official called the draft “very bleak,” and said it describes Pakistan as being “on the edge.”
The first official summarized the estimate’s conclusions about the state of Pakistan as: “no money, no energy, no government.”
This not-yet-completed NIE is so top secret that it has already been leaked to the press:
Six U.S. officials who helped draft or are aware of the document’s findings confirmed them to McClatchy on the condition of anonymity because NIEs are top secret and are restricted to the president, senior officials and members of Congress. An NIE’s conclusions reflect the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.
The findings also are intended to support the Bush administration’s effort to recommend the resources the next president will need for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at a time the economic crisis is straining the Treasury and inflating the federal budget deficit.
In other words: there might not be a whole lot of money left over for Pakistan.
If you were looking at a drastically reduced budget and doing triage for the NSC, which would you choose to focus on: North Korean nukes, Iranian nukes, Pakistani nukes, containing Hugo Chavez, brinkmanship with the Russians, propping up Nouri al-Maliki, or propping up Hamid Karzai? I’m betting on Karzai, because Afghanistan is where all the heroin is coming from.
But then, I’m cynical.
And Pakistan may be about to descend into chaos:
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The estimate says that the Islamist insurgency based in the Federally Administered Tribal Area bordering Afghanistan, the suspected safe haven of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, is intensifying.
However, according to the officials, the draft also finds that the Pakistani military is reluctant to launch an all-out campaign against the Islamists in part because of popular opposition to continuing the cooperation with the U.S. that began under Pervez Musharraf, the U.S.-backed former president, after the 9/11 attacks.
Anti-U.S. and anti-government sentiments have grown recently, stoked by stepped-up cross-border U.S. missile strikes and at least one commando raid on suspected terrorist targets in the FATA that reportedly have resulted in civilian deaths.
The Pakistani military, which has lost hundreds of troops to battles and suicide bombings, is waging offensives against Islamist guerrillas in the Bajaur tribal agency and Swat, a picturesque region of the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan. U.S. officials said insurgent attacks on Pakistani security forces provoked the Pakistani army operations.
However, the ruling coalition, in which President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto, holds the real authority, has been preoccupied by other matters, according to the draft NIE.
These include efforts to consolidate its power after winning a struggle that prompted its main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, to leave the ruling coalition.
Moreover, widespread anti-U.S. anger has left the coalition deeply divided over whether to unleash a major military assault on the Islamists, the U.S. officials said.
The government is also facing an accelerating economic crisis that includes food and energy shortages, escalating fuel costs, a sinking currency and a massive flight of foreign capital accelerated by the escalating insurgency, the NIE warns.
The Pakistani public is clamoring for relief as the crisis pushes millions more into poverty, giving insurgent groups more opportunities to recruit young Pakistanis.
Osama is trapped up there in Waziristan. But how long will he stay trapped, given the current situation?
We may be closer to an Al Qaeda nuke than we think.
Hat tip: Steen.