Another Bush Legacy: The Powder Keg in Pakistan

“The chance that this wasn’t going to happen at some point was small,” said Patrick Lang, former head of Middle East and South Asian intelligence for the Defense Intelligence Agency. “Pakistan is a killing place. It was created out of an unstable mixture of people united by their varying ferocity over Islam.

“A great danger for Musharraf now comes from the fact that we insist that he be something—and that Pakistan be something—that they both are not,” Mr. Lang said. “I heard that idiot [Chris] Matthews say on his show the other night that the majority of Pakistanis are both moderate and secular. If we’re going to squeeze Musharraf hard to be something he isn’t, and can’t be, his position becomes ever more fragile. And an army coup or a successful assassination of Musharraf becomes, I think, a real possibility.”

While not all observers share Mr. Lang’s fatalism, there’s a growing sense that the country’s long-standing history of corruption and political violence may be veering past the point of no return.

“There never used to be any suicide bombings in Pakistan,” said the P.P.P. representative. “Yes, there’s been political violence, but it’s never been at this level, ever.”

Nor is the Pakistani Army—the source of General Musharraf’s now-waning legitimacy—immune from the spread of Islamist terrorism. Pakistan’s elite Inter-Services Intelligence have long collaborated with Taliban and Al Qaeda forces—the Taliban, indeed, owes its institutional origins to the I.S.I.’s early care and feeding. And now regular troops are starting to bow to the influence of extremists.

“What we’re seeing in the Pakistani army is unprecedented levels of desertion,” said Mr. Riedel. “You’ve got whole groups of Pakistani troops surrendering en masse when they come into contact with Taliban and Islamist forces.

“Pakistan is becoming a failed state,” Mr. Riedel said, “though it’s not yet there. A lot of the blame for that lies with the Pakistanis, but George W. Bush can’t escape some of that responsibility. We’ve been standing by this dictator for so long who has undermined civil society and supported extremists that we’ve left ourselves with few other choices.” As a result, he says, “the two most unpopular people in Pakistan today are General Musharraf and President Bush.”

That doesn’t exactly bode well for Bush’s successor, especially given the now lavish scale of American aid to the Musharraf regime—much of it scarcely tied to the fight against Islamic extremism. The United States “has been giving money for developing targets for the Pakistani Air Force and the Navy,” the P.P.P. representative says. “Well, the last time I looked, Al Qaeda had no air force or navy.”

Such lax oversight is all too characteristic, the representative says, of a White House seeking largely to wish away its own policy dilemmas and contradictions. “On the one hand, the U.S. says, ‘We don’t want to meddle ourselves in another country’s internal politics.’ But at the same time, they’ve sent this regime $10 billion over the past eight years. If you’ve bought the leverage, then why aren’t you using it?”