US Should Help Pakistan Build Democracy
By ROBIN McDOWELL – AFP - February 19, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Sen. Joseph Biden said Tuesday that Pakistan's transition to a civilian government after eight years of military rule gives the U.S. a chance to adopt a foreign policy based on the whole nation — not just President Pervez Musharraf.
Biden, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and two other senators were in Pakistan to observe Monday's parliamentary elections. The ruling pro-Musharraf party conceded defeat to opposition parties on Tuesday.
"The moderate majority has regained its voice," said Biden, D-Del.
The Bush administration has promoted Musharraf as a moderate leader capable of holding together the nuclear-armed country. The White House on Tuesday declined comment on the elections, saying the final results had not been announced.
But Biden said the vote was a chance to reshape U.S. policy. "This is an opportunity for us to move from a policy that has been focused on a personality to one based on an entire people," he said.
He said the U.S. should triple the development aid it gives to Pakistan if its newly elected leaders can restore press freedoms, an independent judiciary and a functioning parliament.
He proposed maintaining the increased aid for 10 years, with a focus on building schools, roads and health care centers. There also should be more accountability for military aid, he said.
"We have to demonstrate to the Pakistani people that we care about their needs, progress and interests," he said, sitting next to Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.
Musharraf, a former general who seized power in a 1999 coup and only recently shed his army uniform, became a close U.S. ally in the war on terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001, a partnership many Pakistanis opposed. Washington gave the Muslim nation billions of dollars to help train and equip Pakistani security forces to battle Taliban and al-Qaida extremists.
But Islamic militancy has only increased, resulting in hundreds of deaths in the last year, including the Dec. 27 suicide bombing and gun attack on Benazir Bhutto, the country's former prime minister and opposition leader.
The senators said after meeting with all key members of the government — old and new — that they hope the former foes would work together to bring an end to the country's yearlong political crisis.
"This is truly a historic, decisive moment for Pakistan," Kerry said. "It is filled with unbelievable opportunity, and we urge the leaders of the various political parties to put the grudges of the past in the past."