- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008

Given just 10 minutes with a candidate running for the White House in the United States, or 10 minutes of discussion with a citizen-voter in America, what points should be made about Pakistan?

With the election in Pakistan scheduled for Feb. 18, we submit that the urgency and importance of the situation in Pakistan mandates a simple yet pro-active U.S. plan:

(1) Support President Pervez Musharraf.

(2) Provide, at the ready call of Pakistani commanders in concert with U.S. advisers, a military force in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border capable of providing additional force to eradicate Islamic-extremist terrorists in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

(3) And continue and perhaps increase support to Pakistan for democratic principles and institutions, intelligence, nuclear security, and other support measures vital to Pakistan’s government and military.

Pakistan is embroiled in a bitter clash between moderate, democratically committed yet imperfect government and business professionals that would be comfortable working in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles and Islamoterrorists committed to upheaval, a return to traditional culture among Muslims and destruction in the West.

The contrasts are stark. The institutions of democracy including free and open media, free and relatively trustworthy elections and a free judiciary unhindered by political influence flourished under Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto (1988”1990; 1993”1996) and Nawaz Sharif (1990-1993 and 1997-1999). These institutions and principles still have very strong roots with commitment from a large segment of the Pakistani people despite disruption and dilution by Mr. Musharraf since the onset of the war against terror.

Contrast this strong democratic basis with people devoted to a virulent affirmation of Taliban, al Qaeda and fundamentalist Muslim religious teachings determined to see a return to the kind of blind devotion only to the Koran and life of past centuries without accepting the change represented by the modern Western world.

These people would have all women wear the burqa and would recoil from women’s rights. They would increase the involvement of children in madrassas and are totally committed to a fundamental Muslim religious-based education devoted to terrorism and even attack by suicide. They would never accept and would cast off all Western values and institutions.

These people have fomented a situation in Pakistan that makes that country, we believe, the front line — not just a front line — in the war against terror.

President Musharraf, himself imperfect and perhaps with some corruption and certainly self-serving motivations, is the only man available and capable of holding together the diverse and conflicted society that is today’s Pakistan. The Pakistan army and security services remain loyal to Mr. Musharraf and some segment of the people even see the necessity of his “emergency” suspension of democratic institutions and human rights.

Under Mr. Musharraf today we see three peoples of Pakistan: those violently opposed to any restrictions on democracy; those somewhat understanding and tolerant of Mr. Musharraf’s limitations and “emergency” measures; and the terrorism-inclined fundamentalists.

Meanwhile, Mr. Musharraf and his government must be encouraged, persuaded and perhaps somewhat coerced (by selective and targeted withholding of U.S. funds) to eliminate corruption and restore more trustworthy, open and honest media, judiciary, voting and other values.

On the issue of corruption we believe, despicable as it is in Pakistan, it is not better or worse than in Iraq today or in past U.S. involvements like Vietnam.

On the issue of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, Americans need be aware that the United States has been and remains a strong supporter of Mr. Musharraf’s and all Pakistan’s government in the committed efforts to ensure the safety and security of these national assets at all times and in all circumstances. This assistance needs to remain and may even be bolstered in any eventuality in which that may be required (though there is no foreseen likelihood of such a need to increase this already robust program).

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