The recent return, and subsequent arrest, of ousted former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his native lands turns the spotlight on a on a problem that has been a thorn in the side of our troops in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban.  If Pakistan is so unstable that it cannot even solidify its borders and maintain a legitimate government, how can we hope for them to be an adequate partner in the war on terror?

To understand the particular mess that is Pakistani politics as this time, let us take a look at the two major leaders Pakistan has had to bear in recent history; Sharif and current president, General Pervez Musharraf.  Active in politics all his life, Sharif had his last taste of governmental power in 1999 when he was overthrown in a bloodless military coup and sentenced to exile while being barred from entering Pakistani politics.  To supporters, he was a true democrat fighting to maintain the separation of government and military, and this is what his downfall in the end was.  To his critics he was corrupt and never really minded the military dictator he was under when he first assumed the position of Prime Minister.  After his forced departure, he went to Saudi Arabia where he lived in luxury.

The majority of Pakistani people were not terribly upset by Sharif’s leaving, however with the country slowly in decline in the past few years, Sharif is not looking to shabby in comparison with the alternative.

Enter Pervez Musharraf.  He had little choice but to agree to enlist in Bush’s war on terror when the US attained sweeping moral legitimacy after the attacks that occurred 6 years to this day.  Unfortunately for Musharraf, even for the most competent of leaders, calming and securing all of Pakistan is a tall order.  Pakistan sits between volatile Afghanistan and its traditional enemy India.  On the northern Afghani border the real authority is in the various tribes that live there.  The government f Pakistan does not so much govern them as co-opt them.  Musharraf is in a particularly precarious position of being pressured by the United States to put more military pressure on the terrorists who reside there, while constantly under the threat of alienating the tribes with those very troops.  Additionally his commitment to democracy is lacking as he has dismissed or forced retirement of many in government.  “One was his effort to fire the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry, which backfired badly first by sparking months and months of protest, and second because the Supreme Court turned him down.” (New York Times, Aug 8th)   

The United States cannot hope to mount a serious offensive against the Taliban and Al Queda cells present in Pakistan without Pakistani approval, but conversely Pakistani support is distracted at best.  Pakistan has far too many internal issues to deal will to effectively be a partner on the “War on Terror”, and Washington cannot expect too much out of them.  It makes one wonder how much easier this all could have been if we had finished the job in Afghanistan instead of getting distracted by some crackpot in Iraq.

For more information on Pakistan I suggest the following New York Times articles.  (you will need to login, but registration is free.)