The United States seems to be getting no break today from a long line of strategic woes that have plagued it ever since 9/11. Iraq has turned out to be a strategic muddle where no amount of any resurge initiatives can remedy the situation in America's favor. In Palestine, the warring Hamas and the Fatah have virtually unleashed a civil war and complicating the peace and security of Israel. Lebanon is in a state of conflictual unrest. Iran refuses to be cowed down by American sanctions and threats. Afghanistan has shown no signs of consolidation despite the presence of over 30,000 NATO and US troops.
As if this was not a strategic handful for the United States, it is now faced with a more complex and dangerous strategic dilemma in Pakistan. Pakistan was designated some years back as the United States Major Non-NATO Ally to pep it up to assist the US military operations in Afghanistan.
Pakistan today is at critical crossroads in its history where the common man on the Pakistani streets is demonstrating for the last three months demanding the restoration of democracy, fair and free elections and respect for the independence of the Judiciary. They are vociferous in demanding the exit from the political scene of both General Musharraf and the Pakistan Army and the armed forces to be brought under civilian control.
Despite assessments of the American policy establishment that Musharraf would be able to ride out the storm, the emerging picture from Pakistan is to the contrary. Reports from Pakistan indicate that the Pakistani people at large have developed a 'military rule fatigue' and are in no mood to retreat from their demands of restoration of democracy in Pakistan.
Having for so long strategically invested in the person of General Musharraf and the Pakistan Army to serve its strategic interests, the United States today seems to be at its wits ends as to how to cope with a post-Musharraf and a post-Pakistan Army regime displaced by a civilian democratic government. It is still persisting in contriving a new 'troika' in Pakistan, bedeviled as it is with doomsday scenarios and obsessed with a mindset that a civilian government would not serve its strategic interests in its military operations in Afghanistan and use of Pakistan as a main base for any intended military strikes or military intervention by USA in Iran.
The new 'troika' being considered by USA envisages Musharraf continuing as President minus his uniform, Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister and a new Pakistani Army Chief. The Americans hope that such a contrived solution would continue to serve US strategic interests in the region.
Probably with this in mind, a bevy of very senior US civil and military officials descended on Islamabad on June 16 2007. The US Deputy Secretary of State, the US Assistant Secretary of State and the Commander-in Chief US Central Command carried out intensive discussions with Musharraf and his military hierarchy and also with the Election Commission of Pakistan. The Pakistani media reported that it was given out by the officials was that US wanted free and fair elections in Pakistan but that USA would leave it to the Pakistani dictator as to whether he would divest himself of his military uniform.
The message that emerges is that the United States still is determined that General Musharraf should continue at the helm in Pakistan but with some cosmetic changes to give a semblance that the United States was not impeding democracy in Pakistan.
The United States seems determined to ignore the messages that are resounding from the Pakistani street and therein lie some grave and dangerous implications for the United States standing in Pakistan. Pakistan has traditionally been a very anti-US nation and has resented Pakistani military dictators selling their souls to the United States. As on today if the United States persists in perpetuating the military regime in Pakistan it runs the dangers of intensifying the anti-US feelings prevalent in the Pakistanis at large.
What does that portend for the United States? It portends that should the United States not read the messages from the Pakistani street and relies on its policy establishment's assessments made by people with no hands down experience of Pakistan, and who recommend that Musharraf is the best bet for USA, the United States would have set itself on a course reminiscent of the run-in to the fall of the Shah of Iran in1979 and with the same disastrous results for the United States.
Therein lies a perplexing strategic dilemma for the United States. Should it persist in perpetuating military regimes in Pakistan to serve its own strategic interests or should it restructure its policy options and opt for a political investment in the people of Pakistan and their aspirations for democracy and inducing trust that it has the confidence in Pakistani civilian regimes also that they too can deliver?