Our Man in Pakistan

So, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, treated ever so respectfully by George Bush throughout his administration, in which he became the first Pakistani leader to visit Camp David, has turned out to be just another crummy dictator. But he was our dictator, kind of a modern, even westernized one who could stand up to all those bearded Islamic terrorists.

Well, not exactly. Not that anyone bothered to remember, but Musharraf seized power in Pakistan, ending democratic rule, two years before the 9/11 attacks and did nothing to end his nation's support of the Taliban rulers next door, who were harboring Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida. Before that he was part of a military elite that had, as the 9/11 Commission report would later conclude, been one of the main sponsors of the Taliban. Nor did Musharraf as dictator-president do anything to undermine the nut cases that he continued to diplomatically recognize as the legitimate rulers of the neighboring country. "On terrorism, Pakistan helped nurture the Taliban," the 9/11 Commission reported, adding: "Many in the government have sympathized with or provided support to the extremists. Musharraf agreed that Bin Laden was bad. But before 9/11, preserving good relations with the Taliban took precedence."

True, after 9/11 Musharraf did provide minimal support for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in return for considerable aid and the lifting of the sanctions that had been imposed on his nation for developing nuclear weapons. Odd that a nation that had nuclear weapons and that had actively supported the terrorist haven in Afghanistan was welcomed back into America's good graces only three weeks after 9/11-at the very same time that the Bush administration was drawing up plans to overthrow Saddam Hussein, who was bin Laden's sworn enemy.

Oh, yes, sorry, Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. I forgot, there was that guy "Curveball," the guy in Germany who told us that Saddam had those mobile biological weapons labs that Colin Powell relied on so heavily in his U.N. address. But, as CBS' "60 Minutes" reported Sunday, the German government had told the Bush administration very clearly that its great weapons expert was a just another immigrant trying to hustle a green card.

As for nukes (the real WMD), although Iraq didn't have them, Pakistan did-at least 70 ready to explode-as well as the airplanes and missiles that could deliver them. Worse, the "father of the Islamic bomb," Abdul Qadeer Khan, whom the 9/11 Commission called Pakistan's most revered nuclear weapons expert, "was leading the most dangerous nuclear smuggling ring ever disclosed." It was Khan who provided the key technology, uranium enrichment materials crucial to the nuke programs of Libya, Iran and North Korea. And it was Musharraf who pardoned him, made him to this day unavailable to U.S. intelligence agents and, after a very loose form of house arrest, recently announced that he was now, as in the slogan of Southwest Airlines, free to move about the country.

No problem-why hold a little nuclear proliferation against our favored dictator when he's doing such a good job denying al-Qaida and other religious fanatics a base of operations in Pakistan? Except that he did nothing of the sort. The all-important Pakistan border territory adjoining Afghanistan is more hospitable now to terrorists than ever before. As for bin Laden and the others Bush was going to get "dead or alive," U.S. experts routinely concede that those terrorists have found a haven on Musharraf's side of the border.

So where did the $10 billion go, and that's not counting covert funds, that Bush gave Musharraf to beef up his military to better combat the terrorists? Well, clearly the Pakistani army is very strong-just look at the martial law it has been able to impose on judges and other folks who actually believe in the rule of law. But wait, Musharraf will back down; a deal was all but brokered, and Benazir Bhutto, whose adherence to democracy is as compelling as her family's rich history of corruption, is waiting in the wings.

Condi Rice is on the phone, so hopefully Musharraf can be bought off and the free world once again served by the nation Bush designated "a major non-NATO ally." But there is a bright side, for one adviser traveling with Rice was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, "Thank heavens for small favors," meaning that compared with Pakistan, "Iraq looks pretty good." Talk about lowered expectations.

Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.

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