Sunday, March 13, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to India and Pakistan this week — just two months after her confirmation — demonstrates the importance the new Bush team attaches to South Asia. India’s growing global role as a multiethnic, multireligious democracy with a rapidly expanding economy makes partnering with that country a natural step in fortifying democratic values after September 11, 2001.

Equally important, if not more challenging, is building ties with Pakistan, a strategic Islamic country with a critical role in the fight against global terrorism. Last year’s arrests in Pakistan of scores of al Qaeda operatives prevented major terrorist acts worldwide and signaled extremists they will no longer find easy sanctuary there. Likewise, Pakistan’s military campaign against militants in former Afghan border no-go areas has helped to advance the global war on terror.

Now, more than ever, U.S. policymakers must maintain their focus on Pakistan to ensure the tide is fully turned against extremist forces. At the same time, we must recognize President Pervez Musharraf faces unusual difficulties in his efforts to combat Islamic extremism, modernize the country, and ease tensions with India.

On the last point, high-level U.S. attention to South Asia over the last few years has helped India and Pakistan make progress over the Kashmir region, over which they have fought two wars and went to the brink twice since their nuclear tests in 1998.

The India-Pakistan dialogue launched in January 2004 and carried forward by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Musharraf demonstrates both sides’ interest in normalizing relations. Miss Rice should encourage this trend.

Striking the right balance in our South Asia policy is a delicate task, especially with Pakistan. Deep anti-Americanism among Pakistanis leaves Mr. Musharraf vulnerable to criticism he cooperates too closely with the U.S. against Pakistani interests, while critics accuse the Bush administration of hypocrisy for backing a military government while preaching democracy. Asking Mr. Musharraf, the target of two assassination attempts, to take on too many vested interests at once could, some fear, threaten his regime.

While there is no simple way to make sure Pakistan navigates the path to reform and modernization, the U.S. can encourage the process in ways that lessen the chances for instability, attack terrorism at its roots, and demonstrate our support for a timely return to democracy:

(1) We should ensure our multibillion-dollar aid program targets more assistance to the grass roots of and touch more of the Pakistani people. This would spur needed social reforms and help create more favorable views of the United States.

We should focus on building civilian institutions and a strong party-based political system. Many Pakistanis have lost faith in the main secular parties because of corruption and nepotism. We should seek to help reform, not give up on, these parties. For democracy to take root, citizens need political choices beyond the military and the Islamic parties. Mr. Musharraf must convert his professed support for democracy into real reform of institutions and open the political process to all.

(2) We should boost education aid. Only 42 percent of Pakistani children between the ages 5 and 9 are in school, and less than half those complete five years of schooling. The poor public education system has contributed to isolationism and a general loss of hope — which create a breeding ground for extremism and terrorism. Unfortunately, less than 10 percent of U.S. aid is devoted to education.

(3) We need to expand number and strata of people-to-people exchanges, especially with high-level Islamic leaders, academics and lawyers, to increase Pakistani-American understanding.

Most important, U.S., Pakistani and Indian experts should develop cooperative partnerships to secure weapons and materials of mass destruction, given our common interest in denying them to terrorists. These partnerships could be modeled on the highly successful Nunn-Lugar efforts in Russia on materials protection, control and accounting as well as personnel and site security.

The twin nuclear challenges in South Asia — keeping weapons from terrorists and preventing an India-Pakistan nuclear war — demand we seek ways to cooperate with India after decades of estrangement over this sensitive issue. We have taken major strides with the U.S-India “Next Steps in Strategic Partnership” agreement, but more progress on security ties appears blocked partly by Indian concern the U.S. might re-impose sanctions.

Surmounting this hurdle will require creativity and compromise on both sides.

As long-time foes, India and Pakistan have each considered a gain in U.S. relations for one to be a setback to the other. The post-September 11, 2001, world can no longer afford such zero-sum thinking. Miss Rice should emphasize that U.S. promotion of nuclear nonproliferation, economic growth and democracy through closer ties to both India and Pakistan is a win-win-win solution for all sides.

Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, is a chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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