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Coup D’Etat

Fox News reports that Gen. David Petraeus is telling people privately that the next two weeks (!) are a test of the Zardari government’s survivability. Anonymous sources allegedly familiar with Petraeus’ talks with members of Congress say that he thinks even if the Taliban sweep into Islamabad, the Army is ready to take over.

They said Petraeus and senior administration officials believe the Pakistani army, led by Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is “superior” to the civilian government, led by President Ali Zardari, and could conceivably survive even if Zardari’s government falls to the Taliban.  …

The officials who spoke with Petraeus, however, said he and they believe that even were Zardari’s government to fall, it was still conceivable that Kayani’s army could maintain control over the nuclear arsenal.

That is because the Pakistani arsenal is set up in such a way — with the weapons stockpile and activation mechanisms separated — so as to prevent easy access by invaders. Moreover, the Taliban is not believed at present to possess the sophisticated technical expertise necessary to exercise full “command and control” over a nuclear arsenal, and would probably require weeks if not months to develop it.

It would be naive to think that the Pakistani military, which ruled Pakistan for the past ten years until Pervez Musharraf resigned from the Army in November 2007 and formally relinquished power last August, doesn’t believe it could do a better job of governing than Asif Ali Zardari. And it would also be naive to think that the Obama administration is closed off to the prospect, whatever it might say about democracy. Andrew Exum wonders why the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has a “weird man crush” on Kayani. He might merely be prepared to bet on what he considers the stronger horse — not a strong horse, as the Pakistani army has been repeatedly beaten by the Pakistani Taliban and its allies, but a stronger one. It might also explain why Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy objects to making aid to Pakistan receivable only to “civilian authorities of a government of Pakistan constituted through a free and fair election,” among other provisions of conditionalized funding.

Next week representatives of the Pakistani government will be in Washington for the next round of trilateral talks with the Obama administration and the Afghan government. After this report, and with the Pakistani Taliban approaching the gates of Islamabad, it’ll seem like whistling past the Kayani government’s graveyard.

Crossposted to The Streak.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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