Courtesy Reuters

The Pressures on Pakistan


The survival of Pakistan in its existing form is a vital U.S. security interest, one that trumps all other American interests in the country. A collapse of Pakistan -- into internal anarchy or an Islamist revolution -- would cripple the global campaign against Islamist terrorism. Strengthening the Pakistani state and cementing its cooperation with the West have thus become immensely important to Washington.

So far, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf appears firmly committed to the U.S.-led coalition, and he seems to have the solid support of his military high command. In the short term, the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan will strengthen Musharraf's domestic position. Most of the causes of Pakistan's decline over the last few decades, however, remain in place and have not been changed by the war against terrorism. If these serious flaws in Pakistan's governance remain unaddressed, the country will sooner or later slip into a profound state of crisis. Even in the shorter term, growing unrest as a result of economic crisis could well prompt Musharraf's military colleagues to shunt him aside in favor of a civilian government less supportive of the United States. Musharraf's power depends very much on the will of the military, and if faced with its disapproval it is unlikely he would stay in office very long.

Were a replacement government to pursue a pragmatic but more moderate course -- somewhere between absolute support for Washington and outright hostility to it -- it would not pose a dire threat to the U.S. antiterror campaign. Limited numbers of Pakistani tribal and religious volunteers slipping over the border will not revive the Taliban. Outright support for the Taliban from a radicalized Pakistani state, however, could do just that.

To avoid Musharraf's fall, Washington has already begun to deliver a significant flow of economic aid, some of which was blocked after Pakistan tested its first atomic weapons in 1998. A limited resumption of military assistance may also be

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