Bush Administration Sticks with Pakistan Army: EURASIA

Richard Weitz: 7/29/08; EURASIA

President George W. Bush is talking to Pakistan’s civilian leaders, but the US presidential administration continues to exhibit a stubborn preference for maintaining close ties with the Pakistani military, an institution that is widely discredited inside the South Asian state.

Bush welcomed Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to the White House on July 28 for talks that focused on the deteriorating security situation along the Pakistani-Afghan border. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Gilani said the Pakistani government is determined to contain Islamic militants. Bush told journalists that the Pakistani leader had “made a very strong commitment” to restoring Islamabad’s control over the tribal areas. Questions remain, however, over whether the Pakistani government, even if it has the will to take action, possesses the means to break up the militants’ safe havens.

Amid the speculation, the Bush administration has clung doggedly to policies that have proven ineffective in curbing the militant threat. The US strategy to date has centered on the personality of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the leader of the country’s military establishment, and a man who, from the popular viewpoint, is easily the most reviled figure in Pakistani politics today. Indeed, Gilani’s rise to power was the direct result of parliamentary elections that were widely interpreted as a repudiation of Musharraf’s policies, as well as the military’s control of the political process. Over 80 percent of the Pakistani people want Musharraf to go, according to a recent poll conducted by the International Republican Institute.

The parliamentary elections presented US officials with an opportunity to reevaluate Washington’s policy dependence on the Pakistani military, but, to date, the United States has not followed up on that opening. The bulk of US assistance to Islamabad continues to be funneled through the military establishment. Administration critics argue that diverting assistance toward civil society and economic development initiatives would be more effective in winning the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people, and in making the country’s tribal areas more secure.

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