Payback for America's closest "allies"

Washington to Islamabad: No idea where bin Laden is? Hosting the global black market for nukes? Paying off terrorists? No problem. Oh, and want to buy a bunch of F-16s?

By Mark Follman
Published March 25, 2005 7:02PM (EST)

The war over Terri Schiavo continues in earnest today, as does, we presume, the war on terrorism. The U.S. is poised to sell a bunch of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, "a major policy shift," reports the Times, "that was meant to reward Pakistan for its help in combating terrorism." (Not surprisingly, India isn't too happy about payback time for the Pervez Musharraf regime.)

The 9/11 Commission Report, the Times notes, recommended that Washington move beyond its historical ambivalence and mistrust of Pakistan and make nice via a big boost in aid -- both military assistance and support for the country's public school system as a counterweight to Islamic religious schools' fostering extremism. But the commission also noted that, "within Pakistan's borders are 150 million Muslims, scores of Al Qaeda terrorists, many Taliban fighters, and perhaps Osama bin Laden" -- and it emphasized that U.S. support should be contingent on Pakistan's making progress toward democracy, curbing nuclear proliferation and confronting Islamic extremists.

With the pending sale of the F-16s, clearly Washington is pleased with Musharraf's performance to date. (Bush repeatedly has praised Musharraf and the "bold steps he's taken" to battle terrorists.) Apparently that's despite the fact that the Pakistani prime minister says he no longer has any idea where Osama bin Laden is. And the fact, thanks to "father of the Pakistani bomb" A.Q. Khan (personally pardoned by Musharraf for leaking secrets), that Pakistan may well be the world's "nuclear Wal-Mart." And the fact that Musharraf was willing to pay off local militants linked to al-Qaida, who rang him up for more than a half million dollars.

With friends like these, Lockheed Martin shouldn't have to worry about business slowing down any time soon!

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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Al-qaida Osama Bin Laden Pakistan War Room