As the lighthouse of freedom throughout the world, America has sometimes had to make tough decisions where to shine her beacon of light and where not — a decision influenced by national interests. For example, during the Cold War, faced with containing communism in Asia, the US supported Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos who, although an impeder of human rights within his country, was a provider of much needed military bases in the region. It was simply a matter of accepting a least-worst situation where a less-than-democratic government’s policies helped contain a much more serious threat elsewhere. We face a similar situation in Pakistan today — but with extremely devastating consequences if we fail to adequately balance conflicting interests.
In an ideal world, the US should pressure Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf to democratize his country. Having stolen power from a democratically elected government and combined control of civilian and military institutions to maximize it, Musharraf is no poster child for democracy. But that must be weighed against this: we do not live in an ideal world and, despite Musharraf’s contrariness to democratic principles, his country, with its nuclear arsenal, lies but a heart beat away from control by Islamic extremists. Furthermore, unlike our Cold War enemy who feared in-kind nuclear retaliation if they used such weapons first, Islamic extremists welcome retaliation as a vehicle to expedite their journey to the rewards of an after-life they outrageously glorify.
It is clear Musharraf walks a tightrope in Pakistan, trying to contain Islamic extremism, which is most likely responsible for the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto, while it eats away at his power base.
He must worry about internal Pakistani government agencies, such as his intelligence service, and tribal authorities, influenced by extremist mindsets and providing Osama bin Ladin with safe-haven. Should we press Musharraf to recognize the will of an increasingly volatile Pakistani population, we may well help pave the way for a far more dangerous threat in Islamabad. Twenty-eight years earlier, hoping for greater freedoms in Iran, we pressed the Shah to depart, enabling an Islamic extremist ideology to gain hold as a nation-state and become the greatest threat to world peace today.
Unbeknownst to many Americans, a circa 9/11 event, receiving little attention, reveals just how close we may have already come to suffering the wrath of Pakistan’s Islamic extremist mindset.
In 1987, Pakistani author Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood wrote the book “Doomsday and Life after Death — the Ultimate Fate of the Universe as Seen Through the Holy Koran.” The title alone reflects a most disturbing perspective on life. The book ascribes to the extremist belief the 12th Imam will return to restore Islam’s greatness, but only after an apocalyptic event the extremist can engineer. The author paints a very dismal picture of history concluding, 14 years prior to 9/11, terrorism would play a major role in international affairs. He predicted, by 2002, a terrorist attack using a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) would occur, claiming millions of lives. What is frightening is this author is no Pakistani “Jules Verne,” simply airing a very creative imagination. He is a nuclear scientist, later recognized as a key player in Pakistan’s weapons development program.
As such, he now believes, since these weapons exist, they belong to the entire Muslim world and not just Pakistan.
After 9/11, as US forces entered Afghanistan, Taliban leader Mullah Omar declared no one comprehended the devastation soon to incinerate the US. Was he alluding to a WMD attack? A post-9/11 investigation revealed significant links between al-Qaeda and Mahmood, an avid Taliban admirer. It discovered, a month prior to 9/11, Mahmood spent three weeks in Kabul with Omar. A search of a Taliban safe-house found documents explaining how to make a radiological bomb. Later arrested and asked why he met Omar, Mahmood claimed they discussed “agricultural business.” But his failure to pass polygraph exams strongly suggested a more sinister motive — one perhaps in keeping with the timeframe of his 1987 book’s WMD prediction.
The evidence indicates Mahmood, and his al-Qaeda cohorts, were plotting a much more devastating attack than 9/11 on the US — one using a WMD. If so, the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan — totally unexpected by al-Qaeda — may well have disrupted those plans. However, unleashing a WMD somewhere in the West clearly remains a top Islamic extremist priority.
Perhaps this is why Musharraf, dealing with civil unrest at home and wary of growing extremist support within his government, recently took control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal himself — away from his prime minister — via a temporary law. Parliamentary approval is required within six months for the law to become permanent. If Pakistan’s parliament rejects it, the best interests of the West are served by Musharraf retaining control of these weapons, disregarding his legislative body’s mandate.
Unfortunately, in exceedingly dangerous times as these, we must be very mindful into which corners of the globe we shine freedom’s beacon of light. For our own security, we may wish to dim it to the darkness of some nation’s democratic shortcomings. If we do not — instead trying to be all things to all people — we run the risk of losing freedom’s lighthouse to the more urgent threat posed by the pounding waves of Islamic extremism.