- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2008




Afghanistan, Pakistan and the long and undefined border between the two states contain what are arguably the greatest threats and dangers to stability not only to the region but to the security and safety of the United States and NATO.

My last column focused on one part of this region and offered proposals for preventing Afghanistan from becoming a failed state. This column turns to Pakistan, a major non-NATO ally and more than occasional friend of the United States.

Make no mistake: Pakistan is facing multiple crises that could destroy its fledgling democracy and could precipitate another military takeover, or even worse possibilities, including partition, if things went really wrong.

Politically, the current government rests on a coalition that is fragile, volatile and mutually distrustful. The Pakistani People´s Party (PPP), headed by co-chairman Asif Zardari, and the Pakistani Muslim League-N (PML-N), led by Nawaz Sharif, are bitterly divided over power-sharing and what to do about President Pervez Musharraf, chief of the third major party PML-Q.

The conflict has centered on the reappointment of 16 Supreme Court judges dismissed by Mr. Musharraf and whether those judges would move to invalidate last year´s presidential elections with the consequence of throwing Mr. Musharraf out or move to indict and try him for high crimes - something that is a driving force for Mr. Sharif.

The economy is in tatters. Inflation is running rampant at about 30 percent. The balance of payments deficit has soared to $20 billion and will clean out Pakistani reserves this fall if loans cannot be arranged. And there is often less electricity in Karachi than in Baghdad. Because of this bad economic news, most Pakistanis view the economy and falling living standards as far more important than fighting an insurgency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Meanwhile, insurgencies in FATA rage, imperiling Afghanistan, NATO and the very existence of Pakistan. One result of this insurgency has been a gaping trust deficit between Washington and Islamabad. It is manifested in American belief that Pakistan is not doing its utmost against the insurgents. Mistrust is evident in continued accusations against Pakistan’s Interservices Intelligence agency (ISI) for what U.S. officials call “double-handed dealing” and outright support of the Taliban. This trust deficit has been made worse by Pakistan’s refusal up to now to inform Washington fully and openly of its strategy in FATA, in which it has used insurgents that we see as enemies in hunting down what Islamabad perceives as militants who pose an existential threat to the nation.

This unstable mix of intrigue, economic crisis, simmering insurgency and deepening mistrust must be confronted head-on if an explosion or implosion in Pakistan is to be avoided or mitigated. From the U.S. perspective, one principle should govern our actions. Only Pakistan can resolve these crises and must resolve to do so. America can try to convince, cajole and coerce Pakistan to act. But it is up to Pakistan.

Where the United States can be most effective and of greatest use is supplying economic, military, law enforcement, intelligence and moral support.

Three actions are crucial for Pakistan. First, Mr. Musharraf, Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif must put country above self-interest and ambition. Given an 11percent popularity rating, Mr. Musharraf may have little option except to stand down from office as he did from chief of the army staff. However, this transition must be carried out with dignity and respect, regardless of past sins. Mr. Sharif’s call for trying and hanging Mr. Musharraf for treason must be totally rejected, and a replacement with stature, competence and integrity must be found to fill that role.

Second, Pakistan must draft its own equivalent of an economic Marshall Plan and America must help in securing the participation of many states, especially in the Gulf region, to help pay for it.

Third, while U.S. distrust over ISI and Pakistan motives in FATA will take time to repair, Pakistan should create integrated and joint operations centers at ISI or Army GHQ with U.S. military, State Department, law enforcement and intelligence officers in residence to take on the insurgency politically, economically and militarily. This also includes equipping and training Pakistani forces on a selective basis with advanced equipment needed to defeat the insurgency.

Other actions are needed where Washington can help, including the facilitation of improving Pakistani-Indian relations to reduce the sense of threat in Islamabad and reducing the hostility in Kabul toward Pakistan. And as Clausewitz noted, the moral is 3:1 over the physical indicating where American priorities should focus.

A real “axis of evil” exists in this region. If Pakistan fails to take adequate actions, it will fail. And that failure will have greater reach, affecting us and many other states with vital interests in the region. This is their test and it is also ours.

Harlan Ullman is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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