Commentary

If Iraq, Iran, and North Korea Are the “Axis of Evil,” Why Is Pakistan an Ally?

By Leon T. Hadar
February 28, 2002

President George W. Bush has declared that the next phase of the anti-terrorism campaign would be aimed at pressing Iraq, Iran, and North Korea — the so-called Axis of Evil — not to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. He also stressed in his State of the Union Address that the war against terrorism would be grounded in a set of universal values, including the rule of law, religious freedom and respect for women.

Much of the commentary that followed Bush’s speech raised questions about why he lumped together Baghdad, Teheran and Pyongyang, which, after all, have different political systems and divergent foreign policy goals. A more intriguing mystery, though, concerns a country that was missing from the list: Pakistan. Islamabad should have been placed at the center of the “axis,” not only because of its close ties to radical Muslim terrorist groups and its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, but because its anti-Western and militant Islamic orientation is the antithesis to the universal values that the Bush administration is supposedly promoting as part of its foreign policy.

But instead of being placed on President Bush’s list of evil states, Pakistan is now topping America’s “A List” of the anti-terrorism coalition. The garden-variety dictatorship in Baghdad, the reformist government in Teheran, and the detente-oriented North Korea are being marginalized and punished by Washington and compared to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. But Pakistan’s military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, who brought an end to his nation’s short democratic experience and has advanced Pakistan’s nuclearization program, while promoting ties to radical Islamic groups at home and abroad, is being praised by U.S. officials for his “courage” and “vision.” And he recently was a guest of honor at the White House.

Pakistan’s government, led by an unreliable military clique that is assisting radical Islamic terrorist groups in Kashmir, pressing for a war with India, and presiding over a corrupt and mismanaged economy, has been a recipient of vast sums of U.S. military and financial aid.

One should recall that it was America’s “friend” Pakistan that, through its military-religious nexus, led by its infamous intelligence services, provided the Taliban fighters with the military aid that helped bring them to power in Kabul in 1994 and create the anti-American terrorist state of Afghanistan.

At the same time, the “evil” Iran was a regional adversary of the Taliban regime and one of the leading backers of the Northern Alliance opposition forces. Moreover, despite Washington’s hostile attitude and its efforts to isolate Iran diplomatically and economically, Tehran agreed to give indirect logistical support to the American military campaign in Afghanistan and cooperated with effort to oust the Taliban. Pakistan, on the other hand, joined the American-led coalition only after enormous U.S. diplomatic and military pressure and in exchange for increasing American aid. In fact, while the Iranians were helping their Northern Alliance allies in their war against the Taliban after Sept. 11, Pakistani military and intelligence services were assisting the losing Taliban fighters and evacuating thousands of them into Pakistan.

Although the Bush Administration should certainly continue monitoring the efforts of Iraq, Iran and North Korea to acquire or develop weapons of mass destruction and should take every measure to prevent the transfer of such military technology to terrorists, it’s important to remember that these three nations have agreed open some of their weapons-production sites to international inspection. Most experts agree that it will take several years for Iraq and Iran to develop nuclear military capability and that neither those two countries nor North Korea have provided WMD technology to Al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks. If anything, the Bush administration’s concern with nuclear proliferation and with the possible transfer of WMD to terrorist groups, should make Pakistan — a nuclear military power, whose military leaders and scientists are committed to the notion of an “Islamic Bomb,” and who have maintained ties to the international network of radical Islamic groups, including Al-Qaeda — a focus of U.S.anti-proliferation and antiterrorism policies.

No, Pakistan shouldn’t be branded as “evil” and subject to a campaign of diplomatic isolation and military confrontation that the Bush administration seems be directing against Iraq, Iran and North Korea. But neither should Pakistan be lauded as America’s strategic ally in the war against terrorism and be the recipient of U.S. military and economic aid.

Leon Hadar is a research fellow in foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.