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01/07/08 7:55AM By Olin Robison
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(HOST) As past president of both the Salzburg Seminar and Middlebury College, commentator Olin Robison has become an expert on international affairs and American foreign policy. But he says he still can't predict how the situation in Pakistan will turn out.

(ROBISON) The Law of Unintended Consequences has come into play in an especially big way for the current administration. There are now so many insoluble problems, both domestic and foreign; and it is at least arguable that the biggest problem of all - at least at this moment - is Pakistan.

There are no good or satisfying options for the US right now with regard to Pakistan. Each option seems worse than the one before.

It all absolutely flies in the face of that cherished American belief that there are no insoluble problems. The positive way to say that is that every problem has a solution, if we are clever enough and persistent enough to get it right.

Well, this time, maybe not.

The US Government has made a deal with the devil - the literary set would call this a Faustian bargain - and is losing. President Perez Musharraf of Pakistan is our guy; and Benizir Bhutton was our pick of a person to modernize what we see as a backward place.

Complicating everything, it is also a nuclear state. It clearly harbors bad guys - probably including Osama bin Laden - and it is now in danger of quite literally falling apart - or, to use the academic language again, of becoming a Failed State.

Benizir Bhutto was both pro-Western and pro-American. And now she is gone.

Musharraf looks more shaky than ever, and absolutely no one knows what comes next.

There have already been several failed attempts to assassinate Musharraf. What happens if another attempt succeeds? There does not seem to be an obvious successor. Succession planning is never a strong point among dictators.

What will the US do or not do if India decides that the situation in Islamabad actually threatens them?

Do we, for instance, actually know where the various nuclear warheads are? I hope so.

And what about Russia and China? And Iran? How do they see their interests threatened. Are they making contingency plans?

And what about all those hard-line Islamic fanatics? What do they want to happen next, and what are they prepared to do in order to advance those plans?

I was, a few days ago, at a conference involving a great many people the British would describe as the Great and the Good.

There was a man there who came from the upper reaches of the Indian Government in New Delhi. His personal style was one of deliberate casualness. He was dismissive about Pakistan and the troubles there. I found him hard to like. But he did have a line about Pakistan which I found both creative and instructive. It went like this:

"Look," he said several times, "Most countries have a military, but in Pakistan it is the case of a military which has a country. If something bad happens to Musharraf, the next general in line will take over."

It probably would be just as well if he turns out to be right.

And you can find more commentaries by Olin Robison, at VPR-dot-net.
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