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So George, still good on Pakistan?

Oh, George. Why do you hate America?

For years, I thought we were just having a misunderstanding. You know: You say tomato, I say tomahto; you say checks, I say balances; you say enhanced interrogation techniques, I say torture.

But with recent events in Pakistan, I’m beginning to wonder if our problem isn’t more than just a misunderstanding. Because if you’re supposed to be protecting our nation against Islamic extremism, why are your foreign policies actually strengthening dangerous extremists everywhere?

Look, I’m not going to bring up all that business about the Iraq war and the way it’s created a cause celebre for extremists. Anyone can make an honest mistake and wreck a country. And we don’t need to rehash that old quarrel about Guantanamo and how it’s helped Al Qaeda’s recruiting efforts, or argue about the way your saber-rattling on Iran has strengthened Iran’s hard-liners.

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But come on. Pakistan, for God’s sake?

What were you thinking, George? Back on the presidential campaign trail in 2000, you couldn’t even come up with Pervez Musharraf’s name when some smarty-pants reporter gave you a pop news quiz. Those were the days! Now, the two of you are joined at the hip.

I don’t like to bring up ancient history, but in the 1990s, when Musharraf was a rising star in the Pakistani military, Pakistan was one of only three states in the world to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate government. Yeah, that Taliban -- the same radical Islamist group that was harboring Al Qaeda. Pakistan was also busily developing nuclear weapons, test-firing a nuclear-capable missile in 1998.

In 1999, when Musharraf, then Pakistan’s army chief of staff, seized control of the government in a military coup, it was a domestic power grab, not a change of heart about Islamic extremism or nuclear weapons. (Throughout 1999 and 2000, for instance, Pakistan’s top scientists enthusiastically sold nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea with, many analysts suspect, Musharraf’s approval.)

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The Clinton administration -- and most of the rest of the world -- responded with comprehensive sanctions designed to isolate Musharraf’s autocratic, extremist regime and support Pakistan’s moderate democratic opposition.

But not you! You had to go and make Musharraf your new best friend. Sure, after 9/11, Musharraf saw which way the wind was blowing, and he smiled a crocodile smile, denounced extremism and promised to root out Al Qaeda. So you handed him more than $4.7 billion of military funding in the three years after 9/11. Compared with the three years before 9/11, that was a 50,000% increase in U.S. military aid to Pakistan. By 2007, our handouts exceeded $10 billion. Musharraf must have thought he’d hit the jackpot.

But he’d had his fingers crossed the whole time. Musharraf -- a military dictator -- had zero interest in turning Pakistan into a secular democracy. For six years now, he’s been pocketing our checks with one hand while actively suppressing the moderate political parties that offer Pakistan’s best hope against Islamic radicalism with the other. Elements within his own government and security services continue to support the Taliban and other extremist Islamist groups, but Musharraf has rarely sought to upset that apple cart. He relies on the religious parties to keep him in power.

From time to time, it’s true, Musharraf obligingly offers up a few nuggets of helpful information or cracks down on a radical group or two. But his crackdowns have been so repressive that they’ve spawned as much new extremism as they’ve squelched.

Today, Pakistan is in crisis once more. Musharraf has managed to alienate secular democrats and radical Islamists alike. Thousands of opposition activists are now in prison, two-thirds of Pakistan’s senior judges are under house arrest, and Musharraf has suspended the constitution.

As Musharraf clings to power, we continue to lose traction in the battle against extremism in Pakistan. A recent opinion poll found that most Pakistanis are so alienated that they give Osama bin Laden higher approval ratings than they give to Musharraf -- or to you, George.

Osama thanks you.

And what are you doing about all this?

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Nothing! You’re not calling on Musharraf to step down and hold elections, you’re not threatening to pull the plug on any U.S. military aid, you’re not opening up links to the grass-roots democratic opposition. Which means there’s little chance that we’ll get what we say we want -- and what most Pakistanis want: a moderate, democratic Pakistani government.

Instead, our policies will continue to inspire and strengthen Islamic extremism.

Look, George, I’m not saying you consciously meant for things to turn out this way. But as Freud said, there’s no such thing as an accident.

Have you discussed this with your therapist?

--

rbrooks@latimescolumnists.com


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