The discovery that North Korea has been secretly enriching uranium for the nuclear weapons program it promised to freeze in 1994 demonstrates the dangers of putting faith in a confirmed and practiced liar. So does the news that Pakistan provided the nuclear technology and perhaps uranium to Kim Jong Il's regime.
Pakistan's role as a clandestine supplier shatters the Bush administration's efforts to paint that country as a flawed but well-meaning member of the coalition against terror. Pakistan today is the most dangerous place on Earth, in large part because the administration does not understand the forces it is dealing with there and has no policy to contain them.
Pervez Musharraf's Pakistan is a base from which nuclear technology, fundamentalist terrorism and life-destroying heroin are spread around the globe. American and French citizens and Christians of any nationality, including Pakistani, are indiscriminately slaughtered by fanatics as occasion arises. This nuclear-armed country is in part ungoverned, in part ungovernable.
The Bush administration's response is to protect both the life and reputation of President-for-life Musharraf and pretend that he is moving toward democracy. Huge amounts of American aid pour into Pakistan -- even as Washington's ability to monitor how that money is spent or stolen declines sharply.
This response pushes toward a disaster that Bush officials -- and a Congress that has been negligent to cowardly in exercising oversight on Pakistan -- will one day protest that they could not have seen coming. The truth will be that they ignored warnings that were in plain sight, as the first Bush administration did on Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
The second Bush administration sees the dangers that "axis of evil" members Iraq and North Korea pose. It is fashioning considered, realistic responses to those dangers. But it seems paralyzed by the perceived need to secure Musharraf's help in fighting al Qaeda and stabilizing Afghanistan. Official Washington will not even tell the truth to or about Musharraf, much less hold him accountable for his lies and subterfuge.
U.S. policy today amounts to giving money to Pakistan, which agrees to take it. This is a country where American diplomats are limited to one-year tours and not allowed to bring dependents. Nongovernmental organizations that normally would help the U.S. Agency for International Development gauge how aid money is being spent have closed down out of fear. The remaining AID personnel would take their lives in their hands by insisting on effective monitoring.
Elections rigged by Musharraf in his favor this month were praised extravagantly by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher as "an important milestone in the ongoing transition to democracy." That praise cannot be applied to the process or to the outcome, which gave new prominence to a fundamentalist Islamic coalition that promptly said it would seek to ban coeducation.
Rewards rule in all areas: The sanctions on U.S.-Pakistani military-to-military cooperation imposed in 1998 after Pakistan's nuclear tests were personally lifted last week by Central Command's Gen. Tommy Franks, who attended a joint exercise involving a grand total of 330 troops.
This came on Oct. 17, as David Sanger of the New York Times led the way in identifying Pakistan as the source of North Korea's uranium-enrichment process. A secret barter arrangement was suspected during the Clinton administration. It continued after Musharraf came to power in 1999 and was finally confirmed last summer, U.S. officials report.
Pyongyang sent missiles and missile technology to Islamabad in return for nuclear technology. There are strong indications that both nations have helped Iran develop nuclear and missile programs as well.
Asked about Pakistan's supplier role, Secretary of State Colin Powell said on television last Sunday that Musharraf had promised him that Pakistan was not engaged in this trade now. Powell then refused to talk about Pakistan's past role and would not even explain his silence on it.
Talking about the past would have exposed Musharraf's pattern of lies and evasions, which Powell has increasingly tolerated and covered for as they have become more flagrant. The secretary knows Musharraf lied publicly when giving pledges last spring to end cross-border terrorism -- pledges he has broken. Musharraf even lied about whether President Bush had talked to him about that subject in a September meeting in New York.
The past provides no reason to hope that Musharraf is telling the truth about not helping North Korea now, either. He has paid no price for lying to Powell about ending terrorism in Kashmir or about cooperating fully in crushing al Qaeda. The only consequences for duplicity have been rewards and protection. Why in the world would he suddenly change an approach that is working on every level for him?
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