Don't Panic! April 01 2004

Your war questions answered

Why did the U.S. make Pakistan a "major non-NATO ally" and what does that mean?

On March 18, "Secretary of State" Colin Powell gave a speech in Islamabad, Pakistan, during which he declared that Pakistan is now "a major non-NATO ally" of the U.S. The decision marked the symbolic end of the symbolic slap-on-the-wrist punishment we imposed on Pakistan in 1999, after Gen. Pervez Musharraf became president in a free-and-fair military coup that deposed the democratically elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Becoming a major non-NATO ally is very exciting for Pakistan. The MNNA is an exclusive club with many benefits. Pakistan now has more access than ever to high-tech American military hardware, such as armor-shredding depleted-uranium ammo, something that I'm sure Pakistan's enemy/neighbor India is just thrilled about!

Pakistan's chances of getting its hands on some long-sought American-made F-16 fighters are also improved by its invitation to MNNA. Most importantly, thanks to MNNA-status, all Pakistani citizens are now entitled to a dozen hit CDs for just one penny, provided they buy a CD at full price within a year.

Tangible benefits aside, MNNA-ness is really just a codification of how we've been treating Pakistan for a couple of years now. Since 9-11, we've been courting Musharraf with sweet talk, billions in aid, and face time with Bush and other senior White House staff normally reserved for campaign donors and duck-hunting Supreme Court justices.

Why so lovey-dovey with Pakistan? Like I said, MNNA is a pretty special club. The other members are Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and New Zealand. Yet Pakistan doesn't really fit in with them.

It's not that all of the other MNNA countries are perfect, but they're not bad. Japan is one of our largest trading partners, Bahrain lets us base the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet there, New Zealand gave us the Lord of the Rings flicks, and Thailand gave us the inspiration for the "King & I" and Pad Thai, Thai Curry and Thai Basil!

Unlike Pakistan, none of the other countries on the MNNA list have consistently behaved like enemies. Pakistan helped create the Taliban. Under Musharraf, Pakistan sent planes to Afghanistan to rescue trapped pro-Taliban fighters from capture. Pakistan's military, of which Musharraf is head, helped the country's nuclear godfather, A.Q. Khan, sell nukes and nuke-know-how to some of the most dangerous regimes in the world — including North Korea and Iran. Musharraf still refers to Khan as his hero. And finally, let's not forget that it was Pakistan who sat by and played violin while Rome burned in 64 A.D. Never mind, that was Nero.

My point is simply this. An ally is supposed to be a friend of sorts — a country with whom another country shares important common interests and maybe even some cultural affinity. Pakistan seethes with anti-American rage. The fundamentalists there hate us, because, well, we're us. The secularists and democrats there hate us because we flap our gums about democracy yet support their military dictatorship. Pakistan's most powerful institution, its military, is divided about us. Some members support staying closer to the U.S., but many others want Pakistan to continue being buddy-buddy with fundamentalists, terrorists and violent Kashmiri separatists.

Our pseudo-alliance with Pakistan is actually an alliance with one man — Musharraf — but he's only an ally when he has to be. Finally, two-and-a-half years after 9-11, he has sent Pakistani soldiers into Pakistan's medieval (his description) tribal regions in order to root out the al-Qaedudes and flush out bin Laden into American hands. But that order came only after Pakistan got caught committing the ultimate sin — saying curse words on the radio, I mean selling nukes to our enemies. In exchange for trying to hunt al-Qaeda, we're letting that little nuclear proliferation thing slide.

So let's recap some current events — Saddam Hussein didn't spread WMDs, didn't have WMDs, and had fewer ties to bin Laden than the Bush family (flashback: the bin Ladens had a stake in Dubya's old company, Arbusto, and Bush Senior's part-time employer, The Carlyle Group). We invaded Iraq. Musharraf and Pakistan do nearly everything we ever accused Saddam of doing. Every now and then they pretend to help us. We love Pakistan.

Ah, moral clarity.


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