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America’s Nightmare Scenario: Bin Laden with Nukes — Part II

Will the “Talibanization” of Pakistan give nuclear missiles to Osama bin Laden?

April 30, 2001

Will the "Talibanization" of Pakistan give nuclear missiles to Osama bin Laden?

The Taliban Effect in Pakistan is creating a large, uncoordinated militia determined to wage jihad. This peculiar “duty” to spread Islam by waging war is directed against a whole battery of countries — against India, against the Russians, against even Iran and the United States.

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, these zealots are even determined to precipitate a global revolution.

For the good of everyone, this militarization of Pakistan’s civil society must be arrested. After all, Pakistan is now a nuclear power, and what happens to it therefore is a global concern. Evidently, local soldiers — who simply know no other life than war — must be taught another way to live.

It is obvious that General Pervez Musharraf, the country’s military ruler, cannot deal with these problems. He neither has the ideas to battle this burgeoning movement, nor does he have the complete support of his troops for a major crackdown against the Pakistani Taliban.

Since a vital part of Pakistan’s military is sympathetic to these militant movements, it will not tolerate a Middle Eastern-style crackdown against the Madrassahs, the religious schools, either.

Any military move against the Madrassahs could be immediately construed as an attack on Islam. General Musharraf, when he first took over, declared his intent to secularize Pakistan. This has made him easy prey for opponents who are fueling suspicions about him being anti-Islamic.

Any strong step against the Madrassahs and their religious leaders will be interpreted as signaling that he is declaring war against Islam. This will not only hasten the further collapse of the Pakistani state, but will also help the “jihadi movements” gain more momentum and legitimacy.

This is going to be one of the biggest headaches for the new U.S. administration. Let’s hope President Bush does not take any injudicious steps. His predecessor, Bill Clinton, tried to ride to the aid of democracy in Pakistan.

But when democracy in the country was derailed by an unpleasant military coup, President Clinton effectively alienated Pakistan by imposing sanctions against the country — and by almost torturing Pakistanis over whether or not he would visit.

Those actions may have ensured that, at least for the foreseeable future, Washington will have only a small amount of influence in Islamabad. At the same time, Washington definitely needs a stable and strong government in Pakistan.

And yet, Pakistan cannot deal with its internal and external problems on its own. It needs U.S. support. Washington and Islamabad opened this bottle in Afghanistan and let the genie of terrorism out. And together, they must find a way to shut it.

What the United States, and the West as a whole, must consider doing is not only to shore up the Pakistani state, but also to eliminate the social conditions that engender the “jihadi culture.”

It will take nothing short of a small “Marshall Plan” to modernize northwestern Pakistan and Afghanistan. The U.S. government previously spent over $14 billion to create this mess. It might as well spend at least a couple more to fix it.

To subdue the monster it helped create, the United States ought to make a major effort to develop modern schools in the region. It should also help to create, in the next four to five years, labor-intensive industries that will quickly absorb the unemployed youth.

Only education and employment — not arms and military countermeasures — will starve the Madrassahs of potential jihadis. The Pakistani state is corrupt, and while disbursing the grant money, the United States must ensure that it is used for the welfare of the people — and not for lining the pockets of bureaucrats.

One way to get this accomplished is for the United States to hire a battery of American Muslims, preferably of South Asian origins and dispatch them to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their mission would not be to preach — but to establish modern and technical schools and businesses.

Yes, a Marshall Plan for Pakistan will cost perhaps billions of dollars to pull the region out of its abyss. But it surely will not cost as much as two or three more attacks like the one on USS Cole will cost.

And a development plan of this scale may just be the United States’ last hope to put the genie of terrorism in the region back in the bottle. Only this time, the United States must remember to finish what it started — and cap the bottle tightly. Otherwise, it may find that a bottle shaken under pressure is prone to explosion.

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