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INEVITABLE SURPRISES

Thursday, January 03, 2008
Joe Mazzafro

At this time of year all the talk shows and newspapers do some kind of year in review with projections for the new year and that’s what I was planning to do here for the Intelligence Community but I am going to demur, as it seems to me that the most significant event of 2007 with the likely greatest impact for 2008 occurred on 27 December ----- the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi Pakistan. Given her family history to say nothing of the more generalized actuarial data on Pakistani politicians (even those who make it to power), Ms. Bhutto’s violent death while running against the stable but autocratic Pervez Musharraf was in the words of futurist Peter Schwartz an “inevitable surprise.” So if Benazir Bhutto’s assassination was so predicable within the context of Pakistani politics why does it mean so much? The answer is two couplets that for the time being are unrelated: Al Qaeda and Nuclear Weapons.Despite a less than perfect record, Musharraf has maintained relative stability since coming to power through a military coup in 1999, though a large segment of the Pakistani population being tolerant of if not actually supporting Al Qaeda’s brand of radical Sunni Islamic Jihad. Of course, Afghanistan provided a useful relief valve for Pakistan’s radical Islamic zealots. As a warning though to anyone like Benazir Bhutto who would keep Pakistan a secular state, Musharraf himself has survived three assassination attempts since the United States with his endorsement took military action to destroy Al Qaeda’s Taliban sanctuary in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Now for a “Guns of August” scenario that will explain why I see Benazir Bhutto’s assassination having near apocalyptic significance going forwardWith Benazir Bhutto eliminated, if and when elections are held in Pakistan, it is unlikely that they will be seen as legitimate by any one except those close to the Pakistani military who will insure Musharraf remains in power. In another “inevitable surprise” Musharraf and the Army will need to forcibly quell Bhutto’s Pakistan People Party who will demonstrate violently against his continued rule. Al Qaeda will see this as an opportunity to both weaken the apostate secular ruling Islamabad regime that is “oppressing God fearing Muslims” and to recover its strength in the hinterlands of the Northwest Territories while Musharraf is trying to maintain order in country’s large urban regions. If Musharraf either backs off suppressing the political opposition or tries to accommodate Al Qaeda, then he will lose the support of the Army and be quickly removed by Pakistan’s most regular means for “governmental succession” ----- a military coup. I know, another “inevitable surprise!” A leader coming to power this way is not likely to be less harsh or dictatorial than Musharraf.Given its demography, geography, economy and tribal culture it does not seem much of a stretch that the current political situation could turn Pakistan into a Southwest Asia version of Lebanon where violent political insurgency makes the rule of law impossible. More ominously but not less likely, Pakistan could eventually lapse into civil war leading to failed state.All this would seem to imply three reasonable but distasteful outcomes for the U.S. Intelligence Community to consider for Pakistan’s future over the ensuing three to five years. 1. A continuation of the status quo with an increasingly autocratic leader in charge of a politically restless and poor country with a sizeable nuclear arsenal. 2. A barely functioning sovereign nation state with great domestic and international angst over who really controls its nuclear weapons. 3. A nuclear state in civil war where control of the nuclear weapons will be violently sought by all sides.I know how disconcerting all this looks to me here in Washington, but I wonder how it looks to even the most optimistic “cognoscenti” in New Delhi or Tehran. Certainly any of these three Pakistans would be hard pressed to rein in radical jihadists looking to liberate their Muslim brothers (we know how they feel about sisters) in Kashmir from India’s infidel Hindu rule. Worse would be the potential that a Pakistani strongman using military action in Kashmir as a strategy for at least quieting if not unifying Pakistan’s Muslim population so he could continue in power.Then there is oil rich Iran with its long border with Pakistan and its radical Shia leaders (and perhaps its general population as well) developing increasing concern (and perhaps envy) over an unpredictable Pakistan with the “Sunni Bomb.” Under these conditions I am not sure what incentives or sanctions the U.S. and its allies could use to deter even a pro-western secular democratic Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.It is not inevitable that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto will lead to either a potentially nuclear conflict between Pakistan and India or to Iran reactivating its nuclear arms program. It was also not inevitable that the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand in Sarajevo would lead to World War I in fewer six months when the world move much slower, but it’s what happened.That’s what I think; what do you think?joemaz