AUSTIN -- Now is no time to quit worrying. Keep up that nail-biting, team. Foreign policy is like chess: It's necessary to think at least three or four moves ahead. According to The New York Times, the Pakistanis are deeply unhappy with us. They don't trust the Northern Alliance worth squat. Unhappy Pakistanis may strike you as no skin off your nose, but the problem is that Gen. Pervez Musharraf is not firmly in the saddle, as it were.

Since he took over in a coup, his support base is the military, and the Pakistani Army has a lot of Islamic hard-liners. Bush told Musharraf we would keep the Northern Alliance out of Kabul, but we couldn't stop them. Then they slaughtered at least 100 Pakistani fighters holed up in a school in the battle for Mazar-i-Sharif.

From the Pakistani point of view, it looks as though their enemies in the Alliance are taking over the whole country, and that the everybody-in government we promised them is a pipe dream.

If Musharraf falls to an Islamist coup, that puts 20 nukes in the hands of some loony mullahs, in turn causing India, also a nuclear power, to freak out. This is precisely the kind of unintended consequence of a military action we've seen before -- remember the Khmer Rouge? So, much depends on how captured Pakistani Taliban fighters are treated, and apparently most of them are being sent to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum -- my personal fave among our Northern Alliance allies. He's the one who's changed sides nine times.

Then we have this claque of right-wingers here pounding the drum for war with Iraq. We haven't even got Bin Laden yet. Could we take this one step at a time?

I'm also getting the uneasy impression that American television, in its zeal not to offend any of our professional patriots, is doing a bad job of reporting how the rest of the world sees all this. Remember, we are still a huge superpower bombing the beejeezus out of one of the most unfortunate countries on earth. That's a hard sell.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, so much is coming down it's hard to keep track of it all. In the middle of everything else, zinging out of nowhere, sort of like John Ashcroft's decision to prosecute Oregon doctors, comes an executive order from President Bush holding off access to Ronald Reagan's presidential papers.

The law says most presidential papers are to be opened five years after a president leaves office, and all but the most sensitive documents are to be opened after 12 years. Both national security and personal privacy are protected by the law. Bush just ignored the law and issued an order giving himself and future presidents the power to withhold documents, even if the former leaders want them released.

Furthermore, the order says Americans will have to demonstrate a "specific need" to see the papers. Is the right to know what our own government has done with our money, our soldiers' blood and in our name a "specific need"? As an exasperated Houston Chronicle editorial asked, "Must we demonstrate a 'specific need' to visit the White House or the Washington Monument?" It is, after all, our history and our property.

Of course, the conspiracy theorists leaped to the conclusion that the Reagan papers contain information damaging to the reputation of Poppy Bush, who was then vice president, and/or the reputations of old Reaganites like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Ari Fleischer made a ludicrous statement that Bush issued the order "because of Sept. 11," the most outstanding overreach to date in blaming absolutely everything on the terrorists. The 68,000 pages from the Reagan years were supposed to have been opened in January this year. Three times earlier this year, Bush blocked access to the papers, and he finally issued the executive order on Nov. 1.

If you are wondering why civil libertarians are upset about Bush's order on military tribunals, since it only applies to non-citizens, try reading the thing. It applies to those we have "reason to believe" (but we don't have to produce any evidence) have committed acts of terrorism -- or aided, abetted or conspired to commit acts -- "that have caused or threaten to cause injuries or adverse effects on the U.S., its citizens, its national security, foreign policy or economy." Broad enough for you?

That qualifies everyone from French farmers mad at McDonald's to Roman pickpockets. We already see the unhappy results, as Spain is now refusing to turn over eight suspected terrorists they arrested because they don't think they can get a fair trial here. Don't put away those worry beads yet.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2001 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.