National Security Network

The Roots of Pakistan’s Deterioration: Bush Looked Musharraf in the Eye

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Report 6 May 2009

Pakistan Pakistan Afghanistan Barack Obama George Bush Karzai Pakistan Pervez Musharraf

Conservatives claims on national security undermined by their failure in Pakistan


As President Obama meets today with Pakistani President Asif Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and the Pakistani Army prepares for a new offensive on the Swat Valley, there is little question that instability in Pakistan presents one of the most urgent threats facing the United States.  The priority must be on looking forward – supporting Pakistan’s governing institutions and its military in fighting the insurgency and helping stabilize the country. 

But as Washington is distracted by conservative attempts to “reclaim the mantle” of national security, it’s worth remembering the eight years of conservative failure that got us here.  For years, the Bush administration ignored warnings from its own officials, pulling resources and energy away to focus on Iraq.  Even as the nation’s intelligence agencies warned of the growing danger, the GAO found that the Bush administration had “no comprehensive plan” to deal with the problem.  Instead, the Bush administration pursued a policy President Bush described as: “When [Musharraf] looks me in the eye and says there won’t be a Taliban and won't be Al Qaeda, I believe him.”  The Administration bet heavily on former military leader General Musharraf’s, shut out civil society and funded the Pakistani military with no accountability.  The result:  the United States became increasingly unpopular within Pakistan and was seen as an impediment to democratic progress. Meanwhile, the Pakistani military continued to spend American aid on preparing for war with India and did little to focus on the Taliban insurgency or deal with the Al Qaeda safe havens in its territory. 

White House’s focus shifts to grim situation in Pakistan, as Presidential delegations from Pakistan and Afghanistan arrive in Washington.  Instability in Pakistan has been building steadily.  The New York Times reported on the situation in Swat Valley, a former tourist destination near Pakistan’s northwest frontier, which has steadily evolved into a site of Taliban activity and anti-government unrest.  According to the Times, Pakistan’s army is now preparing for a major confrontation with the insurgents: “Residents flooded out of the Swat Valley by the thousands on Tuesday as the government prepared to mount a new military campaign against Taliban militants and as a much-criticized peace accord with the insurgents fell apart.”  The Times went on to describe the difficulty awaiting the Pakistani government as it prepares its response: “the task in Swat remains hugely difficult, not least because the military had already failed to drive out the Taliban in two years of fighting before it finally conceded to the February truce and agreed to allow Islamic law to be imposed in the valley.”  “The rapidly growing crisis came as Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari began two days of intensive talks in Washington with senior U.S. officials and leaders of neighboring Afghanistan about how to combat the threat of Islamist militancy and terrorism in both countries,” reported the Washington Post.  Last week, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the stakes in Pakistan: "I think that we cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by continuing advances, now within hours of Islamabad, that are being made by a loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state, a nuclear-armed state."  Appearing before that same committee, “Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, pressed lawmakers Tuesday to pass a five-year, $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan,” according to the Wall Street Journal.  While Holbrooke emphasized that the Administration does “not think Pakistan is a failed state," he also stressed that Pakistan is “a state under extreme test from the enemies who are also our enemies.” [NY Times, 5/06/09. Washington Post, 5/06/09. WSJ, 5/06/09. Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, 5/05/09]

Growing insurgency threatens the Pakistani state and U.S. interests alike, but for years Bush administration ignored the warning signs.  Of the challenges inherited by the Obama administration, few are as urgent as the crisis in Pakistan.  Sadly, it did not have to be this way.  Despite repeated warnings that Pakistan could face a serious threat from extremist groups operating in the country’s restive frontier, the Bush administration largely left the problem untended.  In his 2006 annual threat assessment for the U.S., Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte described Pakistan as a nation “at the frontline in the war on terror,” which “remains a major source of extremism that poses a threat,” to both Pakistan and the U.S.  And, in both 2006 and 2007, the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies concluded that terrorists operating in Pakistan’s northwest frontier, along the border with Afghanistan, posed “the greatest threat to the Homeland and U.S. interests abroad.”  In spite of these warnings, the Bush administration never crafted a plan to address the rapidly emerging threat.  A 2008 report from the Government Accountability Office said the Bush administration “has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan's FATA. Since 2002, the United States relied principally on the Pakistan military to address U.S. national security goals. Of the approximately $5.8 billion the United States provided for efforts in the FATA and border region from 2002 through 2007, about 96 percent reimbursed Pakistan for military operations there…the GAO found broad agreement, as documented in the National Intelligence Estimate, State, and embassy documents, as well as Defense officials in Pakistan, that al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan's FATA. No comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals in the FATA has been developed... neither the National Security Council (NSC), NCTC, nor other executive branch departments have developed a comprehensive plan that includes all elements of national power--diplomatic, military, intelligence, development assistance, economic, and law enforcement support--called for by the various national security strategies and Congress. As a result, since 2002 the U.S. embassy in Pakistan has had no Washington-supported, comprehensive plan to combat terrorism and close the terrorist safe haven in the FATA.” [2006 Annual Threat Assessment, 2/28/06. NIE, 4/06. NIE, 7/07. GAO, 4/08]

Instead of partnering with Pakistan’s institutions to mount a comprehensive response to the extremist threat, President Bush outsourced U.S. policy to an unpopular military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf.  From the beginning, President Bush adopted a personalist policy toward Pakistan, relying on military dictator Pervez Musharraf.  According to the Washington Quarterly, Bush once remarked, “When [Musharraf] looks me in the eye and says there won’t be a Taliban and won't be Al Qaeda, I believe him.”  The Bush administration’s policy toward Pakistan has been “built around one person – and that is Musharraf,” said Teresita C. Schaffer, a Pakistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.  After the attacks on 9/11, the Bush administration gave more than $10 billion in assistance to help President Musharraf wage Pakistan’s campaign against terrorism. However, according to Pakistan expert Steven P. Cohen, the U.S. has “wasted several billions of dollars, becoming Musharraf’s ATM machine, allowing him to build up a military establishment that was irrelevant to his (and our) real security threat.”  Foreign Policy magazine noted that the Bush administration “consistently overestimated Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s value as an ally in the war on terror. Under Musharraf’s military rule, terrorism in Pakistan has increased and terrorist safe havens have expanded. Billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Musharraf’s authoritarian regime has done little to stem the tide of anti-Americanism sweeping this nuclear-armed Muslim nation of 160 million people.”  The previous administration’s support for Musharraf resulted in widespread disillusionment among Pakistanis toward the U.S.  According to a 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project Poll, “Fewer than one-in-five Pakistanis (15%) have a positive view of the U.S.”  [Washington Quarterly, Spring 2007. Teresita C. Schaffer, 10/20/07. NY Times, 7/24/08. Steven P. Cohen, 11/05/07. Foreign Policy, 11/07. Pew Global Attitudes Project, 12/28/07]

What We’re Reading

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari are in DC for joint talks with President Obama.  Zardari tries to reassure the U.S. on the state of Pakistan and the Obama administration expressed its confidence in Zardari.  Pakistan continues to push back against Taliban incursions in Swat Valley.  The Pakistani police are underfunded and overwhelmed.

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