More ominous still is the acquiescence of Pakistan's two principal "moderate" leaders.
Acting as behind-the-scenes catalysts are two prominent America-haters, Gen. Aslam Beg, former army chief of staff (1988-91), and Gen. Hamid Gul, former Inter-Services Intelligence chief (1989-91). In his regular "geopolitical" column, Beg recently advised Iran "to attempt to degrade the defense systems of Israel, harass it through the Hamas government of Gaza and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon," or the same policy Pakistan once adopted toward India in Kashmir through terrorist groups and extremist factions.
Gul is one of the godfathers of the Taliban movement that ISI co-opted in the early 1990s to conquer and control Afghanistan in the wake of the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against New York's Twin Towers and the Pentagon, Gul told this reporter a month later, were part of a Mossad-CIA-U.S. Air Force plot to discredit Saudi Arabia in particular and the Muslim world in general. Why the U.S. Air Force? Because, Gul explained, no fighter jets were scrambled even though four civilian flights had been diverted from their flight plans.
Gul is morbidly anti-American. From a mild dislike of the United States during the Pakistan-organized and Saudi- and U.S.-funded war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989), Gul's hatred became pathological during the 1990s. This was when the United States abandoned its Pakistani and Afghan allies and began turning the screws on Pakistan with all manner of punitive sanctions against its secret nuclear weapons program. Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after Sept. 11 and the defeat of the Taliban, Gul has acted as "strategic adviser" to the MMA coalition of pro-Taliban, anti-U.S. politico-religious leaders.
Both Beg and Gul are strongly opposed to military action, encouraged by the United States, against Taliban and al-Qaida safe havens in the tribal areas along the Afghan border. What the United States and Britain describe as Taliban "terrorists," according to the two generals, are the "freedom fighters" of a "Muslim world facing unprecedented oppression and injustice."
The new behind-the-scenes godfather of this broad-based, anti-U.S. coalition is Nawaz Sharif, chief of the Pakistan Muslim League, which had the second-strongest showing in the Feb. 18 elections. Apparently going along with this anti-Bush administration hazard of the die is Asif Zardari, widower of the late Benazir Bhutto and nominal head of the country's largest party, the Pakistan People's Party, which won the most seats in parliament.
Together, Sharif and Zardari control the new parliamentary majority. Now cleared of the last five graft cases against him, for which he served 11-1/2 years in prison, Zardari, 51, is one by-election away -- to fill a seat that has become vacant between general elections -- from becoming prime minister. A murder charge against him is still pending -- after 12 years.
Nawaz will back Zardari as PM provided the latter goes along with the former's hidden agenda -- accommodation with de facto Taliban control in the tribal areas that border Afghanistan in return for the Taliban's pledge to dismantle its safe havens, as well as al-Qaida's, and to stay out of Afghanistan. To mark a change of Pakistan's foreign policy, Sharif wants control of the Foreign Ministry by appointing his own candidate to the post. Zardari was offered the Finance Ministry.
Musharraf worked out a similar Taliban pledge in September 2006 -- that was violated less than 48 hours later. Sharif, Zardari and Musharraf are now agreed U.S. and NATO forces are to stay out of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas whose borders are known only to cartographers. Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the new army chief who replaced Musharraf, will be reminded he is now subordinate to the authority of the new civilian coalition government. No deals with the U.S. military for action or training of the native Frontier Corp in FATA will be valid unless approved by the Cabinet. The civilian leadership will also have to approve all the military hardware items requested under U.S. aid.
This poses a formidable challenge to NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Progress in stabilizing Afghanistan is not possible as long as Taliban forces can retreat for rest, recreation, training and resupply to FATA. Tribal leaders who voice opposition to Taliban control are executed.
This also puts Kiyani in a quandary. Musharraf has handed over his military powers, along with a Rubik's Cube. If Kiyani can solve it, he will have figured out how to allow U.S. Special Forces to operate in FATA without the country knowing, or mission impossible. Several unmanned U.S. Predator bombing missions have taken place recently, but the bodies of innocent civilians paraded for local Pakistani journalists only fuel anti-American fires in the rest of the country, including now regular suicide bombings. Luna Caprese, a popular Italian restaurant for foreign diplomats and journalists in Islamabad, blew up at dinnertime, killing one and injuring 15, including four FBI agents.
Sharif and Zardari are flying to Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah at the end of the month. Neither the now powerless Musharraf nor the American ambassador has been told what happens next. A nuclear power opting to protect the Taliban and al-Qaida? Not exactly what Washington expected when it brokered a deal between the assassinated Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf to hold free elections and restore civilian government. As Henry Kissinger wrote recently, "The world has a huge stake in the outcome."