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Pakistan - Enduring The Law
Of Unintended Consequences

Terrell E. Arnold
Saturday, with a metric ton of high explosives, Pakistan was forced to confront a checkered history and an increasingly troubled present. In microseconds Islamabad's posh Marriott hotel and surroundings were turned into a fiery mass of broken bodies, destroyed vehicles and burning buildings. The reported culprit was an Islamic extremist who drove up to the hotel gate and detonated his lethal charge before anyone could react against him.  That may be the basic truth, but the events surrounding this catastrophe are complex and the precise causes will be difficult to map in the recently very troubled Pakistani political landscape.
The knee-jerk reaction in the West is to blame this on al Qaida or the Taliban. However, many innocent bystanders lost their lives or were injured in the US raids or drone attacks. A broad slice of the Pakistani political class was offended by the unilateral attacks.  It is therefore simplistic to assume that no one other than terrorists of interest to the United States and NATO would be offended enough by US raids and their "collateral", read unforeseeable, consequences to fight back.
One must start by recognizing that this was not just another simple dissident bombing. It occurred at a time when not only are internal Pakistani politics in potentially toxic flux, but the country is seen by numerous Pakistanis as under attack by American forces in its northwest frontier. As narrowly viewed by US force commanders in Afghanistan, and apparently by US officials in Washington-including President Bush who signed off on US raids into Pakistan-the results of those raids should have been viewed positively by Pakistan. After all, outlaw elements in Pakistan's lawless northwest frontier were being killed and maybe disciplined by outside experts at no charge to the Pakistani Government. That latter point holds only if one discounts the reported killing and wounding of innocent bystanders.
The problem was that neither the Pakistani Government nor apparently the US Ambassador to Pakistan had been informed in advance of the attacks. Rather, in keeping with a policy adopted by the Bush administration after 9-11, US forces had simply violated the territorial integrity of Pakistan, an ally in the War on Terrorism, to conduct attacks on alleged al Qaida terrorists and their Taliban supporters. The likely political repercussions of this action in Islamabad and throughout Pakistan seem not to have been considered.
Pakistan's only recently restored democracy is fragile. Its present two week old government-led by Asif Ali Zardari-husband of the recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto-has the narrowest of mandates to govern. It is already operating as a coalition in which no one party has a majority, and that government could fall at any moment. His government also is operating in an environment of widespread as well as high level opposition political discontent with fighting an "American war", as reported by Time/CNN on line. But what may have been, as some foreign analysts suggest, a pro-forma objection to the US raids by Pakistan's army commander and its newly installed President is, as a result of this bombing, now a dug-in political posture that could bring down the government if Pakistan's borders are not honored by the United States.
This writer has suggested before that it is time to put the War on Terrorism in Pakistan on hold while that government gains the confidence of the people and particularly gains non-violent control of its dissident outback. That task is not simple, and even with the best efforts of Pakistan's law enforcement and military forces it may take some time as well as some leadership and elite/popular adjustments. But waiting it out is better than driving Pakistan into a failed state. While it is obviously an unintended consequence, the US-led War on Terrorism is destabilizing Pakistan.
As this bombing demonstrates, the price of satisfying but largely pointless raids in Pakistan's frontier with Afghanistan can be the provocation of mass murder and the possible end of Pakistan's democracy. In modern warfare, especially bush warfare, the law of unintended consequences operates without mercy. In any case, further US raids will do little for the War on Terrorism except possibly generate headlines in US media. But those attacks will add to political discontent and bloodshed, and the failure of that government could provoke loss of official control over Pakistan's sizable nuclear arsenal. That in turn could be a terrifying boon to terrorism extremists.
Pakistani endurance of such unintended consequences as Saturday's hotel bombing is obviously limited.  Recent Pakistani firings on US helicopters in the northwest frontier region make that point better than words. It is time to stand down to avoid the growing disaffection of Pakistan's only loosely integrated minorities, as well as to pacify its major political groups. In so doing, Americans, especially our troops in the Afghanistan campaign,  may be made safer by a sensible respect for Pakistan's border on its northwest frontier.
The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer. His immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College, and Deputy Director of the Office of Counterterrorism and Emergency Management. He is author/co-author of five books. His current work is A World Less Safe now being offered on Amazon. He is a regular columnist on rense.com. He will welcome comments at wecanstopit@charter.net.
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