The U.S. and Pakistan: Back to the Stone Age

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The news out of Pakistan today should certainly raise eyebrows:

Pakistan's military said today its forces had received orders to fire on US troops if they entered Pakistani territory, after a cross-border raid inflamed public opinion.

The country's civilian leaders, who have taken a tough line against militants, have insisted Pakistan must resolve the dispute with the US through diplomatic channels. But the military has taken a more robust line.

General Athar Abbas, an army spokesman, told the Associated Press that after a cross-border assault in the south Waziristan region earlier this month, the military told its field commanders to take action to prevent any similar raids.

This is a genuinely thorny situation where America's short-term interests (killing bin Laden and his top lieutenants before they strike the U.S. homeland again) are colliding with her long-term interests (keeping Pakistan stable and friendly).

It's useful, in this light, to consider the events of September 12, 2001.

On that day, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage placed a call to Pakistan's intelligence minister and Taliban supporter, General Mahmood who happened to be in Washington D.C. According to the 9/11 Commission, Armitage served notice to the government of Pakistan that its policies had to change. Fast:

Armitage gave Mahmood a list of seven "non-negotiable" demands, among them a requirement that Pakistan end its relationship with the Taliban and grant the U.S. territorial access to conduct operations against al Qaeda. According to the Commission's final report, "Pakistan made its decision swiftly. That afternoon, Secretary of State Powell announced at the beginning of an NSC meeting that Pakistani President Musharraf had agreed to every U.S. request for support in the war on terrorism.

It's interesting to note the tone of the exchange between the two nations suddenly thrust into cooperation. Armitage, in a Frontline interview, gives us a hint:

It was a very brief 15- or 20-minute meeting, where I presented [Mahmood] with the list, read it to him, and told him that this was not a negotiable list; it was all or nothing. He said that he knew how the president thought, and the president would accept these points and was with us. I said, "With all respect, that's not good enough. The president of Pakistan, President Musharraf, must agree to these, and my secretary will be calling in a couple of hours." The secretary called 1:30 or so Eastern time that day, about an hour and 15 or 20 minutes after we'd finished the meeting. President Musharraf agreed to all the conditions, without exception.

President Musharraf claimed that Armitage threatened to "bomb Pakistan back to the stone age" if help was not forthcoming. Armitage disputes that characterization. What is not in dispute is that, after the carnage of 9/11, America served notice to Pakistan.

Could the next president deliver such an ultimatum? Given the news today, would it be wise to do so?

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