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Pakistan Options: Non-Coup Edition

As the Zardari government in Pakistan has an increasingly precarious hold on power, one option for the Obama administration is to turn to Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani to foment a coup, as an ex-intel official tells Laura Rozen:

“Look at [Secretary of State Hilary Clinton]‘s comments over the last week to the effect that the Zardari government has abdicated and that the Taliban move toward Islamabad is a ‘mortal threat’ to the U.S. and the world,” a former U.S. intelligence official told The Cable on condition of anonymity. “This sets the stage for a nod to [Pakistani Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez] Kiyani, if it becomes necessary. The administration will have to deal with a Congress that just loves elections, but has never learned that though the Pakistanis are pretty good at elections, they are pretty sorry at running a democracy. Watch the SecState’s comments, and those of the president.”

But a military coup is a difficult thing for the United States to accept, especially after the ~~former~~ secretary of state and the vice president spent the past several years inveighing against Pervez Musharraf’s military dictatorship and issuing calls for the renewal of Pakistani democracy. (Or maybe they just meant they liked Benazir Bhutto personally.) Why bother pressuring Musharraf out of power in the first place if his replacement is to be another military strongman who’s probably not even as strong? Musharraf, I understand, really did have great support from the officer corps; I don’t have any idea about Kiyani.

The Times reports there’s another option — one the United States hasn’t often wanted to accept:

As American confidence in the Pakistani government wanes, the Obama administration is reaching out more directly than before to Nawaz Sharif, the chief rival of Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, administration officials said Friday.

For the life of me, I haven’t ever understood why the United States under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush kept Sharif at arm’s length. The rap that the United States and British papers always have on him but rarely explain is that he’s “too close” to the “Islamists.” Well, compared to what? He’s not the MMA, an Islamist political coalition, and he’s certainly not the Taliban. He also did an excellent job of making himself the champion of Pakistani democratic aspirations through the Long March against Zardari to get Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry reinstated. And the Obama administration apparently thinks Sharif’s closeness to the Islamist currents in Pakistan is a net benefit:

The official said the administration wanted to broker an agreement not so much to buoy Mr. Zardari personally, but to accomplish what the administration believes Pakistan must do. “The idea here is to tie Sharif’s popularity to things we think need to be done, like dealing with the militancy,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity to speak more candidly about American differences with Pakistan’s government.

Still, who has any confidence in America’s ability to manipulate the shape and then the function of the Pakistani government, even presuming it’s a necessary thing to attempt?

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