Pakistan in Peril: John Bolton on Bhutto's death

Published December 28, 2007

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This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," December 27, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

ALAN COLMES, "HANNITY & COLMES" CO-HOST: The international community sits in a state of mourning with the tragic assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto represented a moderate opposition to the Musharraf-led government. With more on the repercussions of this barbaric act, we turn now to the author of "Surrender is Not an Option," former United States ambassador to the United States, John Bolton. Ambassador, thank you so much for coming on our show tonight.

JOHN BOLTON, FMR. UN AMBASSADOR: Glad to be here.

COLMES: Did we make a mistake trying to push democracy too quickly in a region of the world where stability, to use the analogy Rich Lowry used earlier tonight, is more important than democracy? Are they sometimes mutually exclusive?

BOLTON: I don't think that's the question for the United States. I think for us the main strategic interest is the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. And I think by acceding to Benazir Bhutto's desire to get back into the game in Pakistan, seeing her as somebody as an alternative to Musharraf, we, in effect, helped precipitate this dynamic which has led to her tragic assassination. It's hard to see how that was the road to success.

COLMES: That's what I was getting at, that we were pushing democracy by way of Bhutto, thinking that if she could get in there — we were kind of, it seemed, trying to engineer these upcoming elections so she could become prime minister and have some kind of a partnership with Musharraf, one that would seem like a marriage made in hell.

BOLTON: Well, I think this ought to tell us not to try to micro-manage what goes on in a country like this. What we've got now is a prescription for chaos. That country is on the verge. We'll have to see what happens in the cities tomorrow, whether riots break out. This is exactly what the Islamic fundamentalists wanted, because now Musharraf himself has come under even greater criticism. The country is extremely unstable and control of those nuclear weapons is now up for grabs.

COLMES: Is Musharraf capable of keeping order in the country? Is he the right guy in the right job right now?

BOLTON: Well, I think he's the person to put our money on. Otherwise we risk having the military fragment, and that would lead to the possibility of the radical elements in the military and elsewhere in society taking control. I'm not arguing that Musharraf is Jeffersonian Democrat. I'm simply arguing, at the moment, he's the one most likely to hold the military together, and therefore hold the country together.

COLMES: Was it a mistake for us to push to get Musharraf to step down from his military leadership?

BOLTON: I think it was at this point. I think this is part of the micro-management problem. At some point, that may be the right thing to do. What we need right now though is a kind of time-out. We need the responsible political leaders to go to their corners. Let's try and calm the situation down and work from there. Otherwise, the more passion, the more tension, the more action in the streets, the greater the chances the radical Islamicists will prevail in the midst of the chaos.

RICH LOWRY, "HANNITY & COLMES" GUEST CO-HOST: Hey, Mr. Ambassador, it's Rich Lowry. Thanks for being with us. How much do we know about the disposition of those nukes and how safe they are?

BOLTON: Well, not that I'm going to talk about, but there's some that we know and some that we don't know. And what bothers me is not the technical security of the nuclear weapons at the moment; it's the possibility of losing command and control over them or having control over them fall into the hands of militant Islamists within the Pakistani military. That's a very grave danger at the moment, I believe.

LOWRY: Ambassador, let me put the administration's case to you, if you will. The case for trying to get a deal between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto was premised on the idea if Musharraf is actually effectively going to stabilize the country he can't be isolated politically, and has to have a broader base of political support, and aligning with Bhutto was the way to do it.

BOLTON: Look, the day she returned to Pakistan, she was the target of an assassination attempt that killed well over a hundred of her supporters. You can't say this wasn't foreseeable, and it's obviously led to her death, hardly a successful strategy.

LOWRY: Now on Musharraf, you know the rap on him. It's not just that he's un-Democratic, but that he's not doing enough in those tribal areas to run down the Taliban. It's that he's not routing the extremists that have burrowed in his security services. It's that he seems more interested in squeezing out the secular opposition in the country than he seems going after the Islamists. What do you think of that case against him? And is he really the right man for us in Pakistan?

BOLTON: Well, it's sort of difficult to sit in Washington and New York and second guess which general you'd like to have in charge. Certainly, you have to look at the breadth of his responses from 9/11 down to the present. And it has not been entirely what we wanted, but it has been basically in line with what we've sought. I think there's more we could have done before this chaos erupted to get him to be more aggressive in the northwest frontier province.

But don't underestimate the infiltration of the Pakistani military by the radical Islamists. These are not people he supports or wants there. It's a fact of Pakistani society that he's trying to deal with.

LOWRY: Talk a little more about what a civil war would look like? It would involve the splitting of the military between a radical and less radical faction?

BOLTON: I think it could be the fragmentation of the military. What I worry about here is not some massive civil war with large military formations. I'm worried about, for example, Musharraf being assassinated. He's been the subject of at least three attempts already. And a small group within the military taking control. That is the gravest risk I think at the moment, if that small group were radical Islamicists.

A subsidiary threat is that you lose command and control over even some of the nuclear weapons, and they get lose to Al Qaeda.

LOWRY: Great. Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much, always fascinating. Thanks for being with us tonight.

BOLTON: Thank you.

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