Saturday, November 03, 2007

Musharraf's Emergency In Pakistan Is Necessary

There will be hand wringing from Washington and London to all points east, but the emergency proclaimed today in Pakistan by the military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, is necessary as a last resort to prevent Al Qaeda and Taliban gains that could soon result in a seizure of control by terrorists in that nuclear-armed state.

The United States over the last several months has been working to fortify Musharraf by arranging a coalition between himself and the exiled prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. But Bhutto's return to the country on Oct. 18 was marred by twin suicide bombing attacks that killed 140 of her supporters in Karachi, and Bhutto, never exactly a strong leader, left the country again for her home in Dubai. (There were reports Saturday that in the wake of the proclamation of emergency, she was trying to return again to Pakistan).

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda and the Taliban, buttressed by an influx of foreign Islamic fighters, have been spreading their insurgency out from the borderlands of Waziristan, next to Afghanistan. The New York Times reported just yesterday that fighting now extends out of tribal areas into the cities of Pakistan's north, and there have been suicide attacks in the last week against regular Pakistani armed forces elsewhere in the country. Some Pakistani soldiers have been taken hostage.

At the same time, the Pakistan Supreme Court has been considering a nullification of Musharraf's recent reelection by the parliament. This morning, following his proclamation of an emergency, eight of the 11 Supreme Court justices said it was illegal. But there were reports that Musharraf has ordered army units to surround the court and has deposed the chief justice.

The stakes in Pakistan are too high for the U.S. to back off its longtime support of Musharraf now. And, after all, Pakistan has throughout its history, since partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, been mostly under military control of one kind or another. This is perhaps a state that never should have been created. Democracy there has never lasted for long.

What I believe is happening is that Al Qaeda and its allies are transferring the main seat of the war from Iraq to the east, to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and given the existence of nuclear arms in Pakistan, this is becoming a far more critical theater of the War on Terror than Iraq.

Just this week, there have been new signs that the war in Iraq is being won by U.S. forces. U.S. military deaths in that country were 39 in October, the lowest level in two years, and deaths of all persons from suicide bombers were down 80%. All deaths from sectarian strife and insurgent action in the city of Baghdad are running only about one third the number of a few months ago. These are signs of gains that should not be ignored. They indicate that President Bush's tactic of a "surge" in U.S. forces in Iraq has worked out well.

A turning point in Iraq may have come this fall when the three leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, all declared in a Democratic candidates' debate in Hanover, N.H., that they would keep at least some U.S. troops in Iraq through their first term in office (until 2013). This combined with the recent statement by retired Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, former head of the U.S. Central Command conducting the war, that U.S. troops may remain in the Middle East for the next 50 years, may well have discouraged Al Qaeda profoundly. Once the terrorist commanders realized the U.S. was likely to stay, they seem to have decided to pursue new fields of endeavor, and the prospects in Pakistan, for now, seem more promising, and perhaps more important, to them.

The next days will be critical in Pakistan. What will be the popular reaction to the state of emergency? What will Musharraf do to pacify or control the Supreme Court? What will be the reaction of the terrorists? And what will be the American and Indian reactions?

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Eric Malnic's obituary in Friday's Los Angeles Times of Paul Tibbets, Jr., the Air Force pilot who commanded the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, was impressive, and clearly superior to the New York Times obituary. Tibbet was 94.

The decision of President Harry Truman to use the bomb, in effect, brought World War II to an end and saved hundreds of thousands of lives that would have been lost had an American invasion of the Japanese home islands been required. However, Truman's decision has only grown in controversy over the years. Could the atomic bomb have been demonstrated in some way, say in the oceans off Tokyo, that would have induced the Japanese to give up, without the deaths of so many thousands of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

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