Turning the other cheek is not one of
President Bush's best-known traits. But he is ready to forgive
a lot in the case of Pakistan, where a skillful political
alchemist is transforming a record of failure, extremism and
betrayal into gold from the U.S. Treasury.
after U.S. intelligence confirmed that Pakistan had supplied
North Korea's rogue regime with nuclear weapons technology,
Bush lavished a much-coveted Camp David welcome on President
Pervez Musharraf last week. The general also won a $ 3 billion
Bush did this at the urging of his
defense and spy chiefs, who face the day-to-day demands of
hunting down al Qaeda and other terror groups. They are
desperate for whatever immediate cooperation they can squeeze,
cajole or buy from Pakistan. But they risk confusing the
urgent with the important.
Their needs force
Washington to look the other way as Pakistan's Islamic
extremists grow more powerful under Musharraf's rule, as
cross-border terrorism continues in Kashmir and India (despite
Musharraf's promises to end it "permanently") and as it
becomes plain that Musharraf intends to remain president
All this is bad enough. But Musharraf's
calculated pushing of the American envelope also imperils what
promised to be Bush's most innovative and important foreign
policy initiative: the building of a new strategic
relationship with democratic India.
The Bush effort on
India has been poised to take a giant step forward. At the
president's request, India has been considering sending about
20,000 peacekeeping troops for duty in Iraq.
country could provide more immediate help for the beleaguered
U.S. presence there. India's military command is intimately
familiar with Iraq, having trained the Iraqi army in the past.
Indian troops are experienced peacekeepers. New Delhi is a
leader in Third World politics. Its participation could help
mute outside criticism of the coalition effort.
the decision to help may now be held up as India waits to see
how Washington will allocate the $ 1.5 billion in military aid
that is part of the five-year package promised to Musharraf at
Bush did keep hopes for a yes from India
alive when he refused the Pakistani president's request for
nuclear-capable F-16 fighter jets. But New Delhi will want to
know more about which arms were not refused to Musharraf
before deciding about an Iraqi mission and deeper engagement
with the United States.
When he came to office, Bush
did not envision walking a tightrope between these two South
Asian enemies. He was impressed with India's large economy,
democratic politics and the readiness of Prime Minister Atal
Bihari Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist government to move beyond
New Delhi's Cold War fealty to Moscow. Bush set out to make
India a meaningful U.S. strategic partner for the first time.
But 9/11 changed U.S. priorities. Pakistan was
suddenly needed in the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban,
the very monsters Islamabad had helped create. To justify a
first large infusion of difficult-to-monitor aid, the United
States leaned heavily on Musharraf to pledge publicly to end
extremism at home and halt terror operations against India
from Pakistani-held territory.
But no one -- not even
Musharraf -- seriously disputes today that the cross-border
infiltration from camps run by Pakistan's intelligence
services and army continues unabated.
claiming as he has in the past that there was no infiltration
occurring at all, Musharraf told editors and reporters at The
Post last week that it was impossible to state with
mathematical certainty that movements across the remote,
rugged frontier had stopped.
"I can't tell you if
there is any cross-border terrorism going on," he said. He
responded affirmatively when asked if the position he had
conveyed to Bush last week was that he has done everything
possible to stop Kashmiri-related terrorism and could do no
more. This is a change of emphasis that is certain to upset
Musharraf shut off questions about U.S.
protests over Pakistan's swapping of nuclear weapons
technology for North Korean missiles with a similarly opaque
comment: "That chapter is closed." But he carefully avoided
disputing that the exchange had occurred, as Pakistani
officials have in the past.
Privately, U.S. officials
voiced disappointment after the visit that Musharraf gave so
little in return for the cash and glory Bush showered on him.
But the Pakistani understands the secrets of political alchemy
better than they do.
The weaker and more ineffective
he seems to become in carrying out his promises, the more the
Bush administration will have to give Musharraf to keep him
afloat. After all, he proved at Camp David that having some
terrorists around to pursue buys a lot of