"Keep Pakistan on Our Side"

August 20, 2006
Keep Pakistan on Our Side
By RICHARD L. ARMITAGE and KARA L. BUE
Washington

IN the wake of the foiled terror plot in London involving British Muslims with Pakistani connections, all eyes are again on Pakistan as the breeding ground for terrorists. While the arrests may serve as proof to some that the country cannot be relied on as an ally in our fight against Islamic extremism, we would argue that the recent events should harden our resolve to support it.

On Sept. 12, 2001, the United States gave Pakistan a stark choice — be with us or against us. Understanding the dangers and opportunities of this choice, President Pervez Musharraf chose to stand with America, and since then he has taken tremendous steps to fight Islamic extremists and move Pakistan toward enlightened moderation.

Pakistan has worked closely with the United States, sharing intelligence and capturing and handing over many terrorists, including top Al Qaeda leaders. It has sent more than 70,000 troops to the Afghan border and conducted successful operations to flush out foreign fighters. Hundreds of Pakistani troops have been killed in these efforts, and thousands injured.

Perhaps more important, General Musharraf has shown that he understands the seriousness of dealing with the root causes of extremism, making real efforts to improve economic and educational opportunities. He solved the country’s crippling debt crisis and loosened regulations on businesses, paving the way for an economic growth rate rivaling India’s. With mixed success, he has worked to free the judiciary from religious control and to loosen the grip of Islamic extremists on madrassas, the prevalent religious academies.

Yes, much remains to be accomplished, particularly in terms of democratization. Pakistan must increase efforts toward a lasting peace with India and eliminate the home-grown jihadists who threaten that peace. And, given the exposure of the arms bazaar run by its top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, it must prove itself a reliable partner on technology transfer and nuclear nonproliferation.

However, Americans must applaud the counterterrorism steps that have been made so far, which have been taken at great personal risk to General Musharraf, who has faced several assassination attempts.

As Pakistan has pursued change, so too has the United States in its policy toward the country. In the past, our consideration of Pakistan was tied to that of India, and vice versa. We talked of “India-Pakistan” as a sort of two-headed entity. To its credit, the Bush administration has managed to de-hyphenate the relationship. We now attempt to deal with each country on its own terms, for our own reasons.

But we feel we are seeing a slide in our efforts with Pakistan. There appears to be far less immediacy than warranted. We are not overlooking the tremendous economic and military support the United States has provided, including the decision this summer to sell 36 F-16 fighter aircraft to its air force. Our concerns rest with what we see as growing frustration over the pace and difficulties of reforms.

It is critical that Pakistan not be shortchanged in our engagement in the region. While India is clearly important to us for its strategic and economic promise, the success of Pakistan holds the key to stability in the region and perhaps throughout the Muslim world. Were Pakistan to fail, there would be no hope for Afghanistan, a dimmed future for India and an increased threat of Islamist terrorism globally.

As the Sept. 11 Commission correctly pointed out: “If Musharraf stands for enlightened moderation in a fight for his life and for the life of his country, the United States should be willing to make hard choices too, and make the difficult long-term commitment to the future of Pakistan.”

We believe General Musharraf continues to stand for these principles and deserves our attention and support, no matter how frustrated we become at the pace of political change and the failure to eliminate Taliban fighters on the Afghan border. It was such short-term thinking that almost led to the derailment of the F-16 deal in Congress.

Instead of threats, we should increase our senior-level interaction with Pakistan across the board, involving cabinet secretaries beyond those representing the State and Defense Departments and placing a new emphasis on trade issues.

We can also take more immediate steps on the ground. For one thing, we could focus our aid on the development of roads, hospitals and electricity plants in rural areas. America’s assistance after last year’s devastating earthquake was vital; but instead of simply waiting for another one to happen, our military and humanitarian groups could begin programs to help Pakistani officials respond to future disasters on their own.

Education is another obvious but underfinanced example. We should persuade the Pakistani government to focus less on the idea of building flagship universities and more on providing basic and vocational education for the masses. We need to sponsor large-scale teacher training programs and help build elementary schools in communities where none exist.

With Pakistan’s help, Britain and the United States were able to prevent a tragedy last week. We must ensure that such help is always available, and hope that it eventually becomes unnecessary through Pakistan’s efforts.

Richard L. Armitage, deputy secretary of state from 2001 to 2005, and Kara L. Bue, a deputy assistant secretary of state from 2003 to 2005, are international business consultants.

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