- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

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).

Therefore, we return to our stated purpose: America should support President Musharraf but with some reservations. To deal with these reservations, Mr. Musharraf should continue to be persuaded and even somewhat pressured and coerced toward reforms more in line with American democratic beliefs.

The U.S. has already acknowledged that the Feb. 18 election will be imperfect. Our goal now must be to pressure Mr. Musharraf to make changes in course toward the next elections by opening freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.

We believe the tribal areas are hotbeds of dangerous people and situations that may even harbor Osama bin Laden, his followers and believers. The tribal areas are the current nexus of the worst form of anti-Western terrorism. The army of Pakistan continues to be engaged here and its success varies. Mr. Musharraf maintains that U.S. troops are unneeded and unwelcome. Yet there are many other U.S. support operations such as that which eliminated Afghan al Qaeda leader Abu Laith al-Libi in Pakistan at the end of January.

And in late January, Pakistan’s government troops clashed mightily with terrorist troops headed by Waziristan insurgent commander Baitullah Mehsud. After that fighting, Pakistan has taken control of Darra Adam Khel, a town that has served as an illicit arms bazaar for about 100 years.

But we still see an eventual possible future need for U.S. troops in the tribal areas. The U.S. needs to be ready to enter if summoned by Pakistan.

Finally, the entire international community seems united in persuading President Musharraf to restore and enlarge democratic institutions and principles. His control of the press and judiciary stifles not only terrorists but also needed democratic discourse.

There is great hope in and for Pakistan. Without continued U.S. assistance and support, that hope would be diminished or lost. An imperiled Pakistan is not in the best interests of most Pakistanis, the American people or the rest of the Western world.

Muhammad Khurshid reports and writes through the Bajaur Agency in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. John E. Carey is a former senior U.S. military officer, president of International Defense Consultants, Inc. and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times.

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