Thursday, January 31, 2008

Turmoil in Pakistan and US Policy

On the New Year’s Day, Peter Beinart, Editor at Large of the New Republic and Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, appeared in an NPR radio program, and commented that Pakistan will be a critical test for the Bush administration’s commitment for democracy promotion. Beinart says that the United States faces a dilemma, whether to support or abandon a pro-America dictator. He warns that a failure in dealing with current crisis will make Pakistan another Iran.

Pakistan is a frontline of the War on Terror and nuclear non-proliferation. The collapse of this country will pose considerably negative impacts to US strategy. Prior to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Daniel Markey and Husain Haqqani discusses US policy on Pakistan in “The FP Debate: Should the US Abandon Pervez Musharraf?” in Foreign Policy, November 2007. While Markey says “no”, Haqqani says “yes.”

Daniel Markey, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Former Policy Staff at the Department of State, says that though Musharraf failed in building a political party with grassroots appeal since he took power in 1999, his step down will not necessarily lead Pakistan to Jeffersonian democracy. That will undermine the US-Pakistani cooperation military, counterterrorism, and intelligence, which would ultimately pose negative effects on US security. Furthermore, he points out Pakistani reformists led by Bhutto must work with Musharraf in order to win power.

On the other hand, Husain Haqqani, Professor of Boston University and Former Advisor to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhotto, argues that not only through authoritarian rule but also through mishandling of terrorism, Musharraf is talibanizing Pakistan. While fighting against Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf has been reluctant to confront Taliban in Afghanistan. As a result, Haqqani points out that the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan has become a terrorists’ safe haven.

It is important that Pervez Musharraf is just one of generals in current regime of Pakistan. Robert Kagan, Senior Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, comments that it does not mean the collapse of Pakistan if the United States abandon Musharraf. This was not the case with the Pahlavi Iran, that is, while the fall of the shah meant the loss of US ally in case of Iran, the fall of Musharraf does not necessarily in Pakistan (“Musharraf and the Con Game”; Washington Post; November 22, 2007).

Having read the above three commentaries, I wonder whether there are any leaders to replace Musharraf. Benazir Bhutto was killed, and Nawaz Sharif does not look strong enough. Whether to support Musharraf or not, the key point is to maintain Pakistan an ally on the War on Terror.

In this discussion, it is important to understand Pakistan’s stance in the war on Terror. Ashley Tellis, Senior Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out that the United States needs to be more patient (“Pakistan ―― Conflicted Ally in the War on Terror”; Carnegie Policy Brief; December 2007). According to Tellis, Pakistan takes a double standard: hard on Al Qeada but soft on Taliban, because Pakistani leaders worry that the collapse of Taliban will lead to inflame Pashutun sensitivities, which will undermine cooperation between the tribes in the Federally Administrated Tribal Area and the military. Also the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate agents are reluctant to cut old ties with Taliban. In addition to political complexities in Pakistan, Tellis points out that the Karzai administration of Afghanistan has been inefficient in curbing corruption and improving the economy, which makes the problem furthermore complicated.

In view of these problems, Ashley Tellis insists that removing Pervez Musharraf does not assure radically improved motivation and performance of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism operations. Instead, he advises the United States say frustration with Pakistan’s counterterrorism performance straightforwardly, while provide organizational, technical and financial support for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Also, Tellis recommends NATO expand military activities in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Policy recommendations by Ashley Tellis sound plausible. As Islamic radical are grave concerns in South West Asia, I think it necessary to get India involved. Prime Minister Manmmohan Singh has been developing strategic partnership with the United States since 9-11, because of threats by Islamic militants in Jammu Kashmir.

Nuclear weapon is another critical issue. In “Day to Day” on NPR program on December 28, George Perkovich, Vice President of the Carnegie Endowment, comments that the Pakistani military holds a tight grip on its nuclear weapons. He says that the United States and its allies focus much more on political turmoil in this country.

What is the impact of assassination of Benazir Bhutto? In "Lou Dobbs Tonight" of CNN on December 27, Christine Fair, Senior Political Analyst of the Rand Corporation, comments that Bhotto had a slim chance of winning the election. She says that Musharraf tried to have a reasonably fair and free election, in order to boost his legitimacy. Both guests, Christine Fair and Ashley Tellis, agree that election needs to be held sooner, because it is not preferable for the United States to see Musharraf use this crisis to strengthen his dictatorship. They conclude that the United States should help support democratic institutions in Pakistan, not President Musharraf personally.

For further information, please see the video of a congressional testimony at the House Subcomitee on the Middle Eats and South Asia (Windows , ; Quick Time , ; Podcast , ). In addition to Tellis and Fair, Lisa Curtis, Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, attended a hearing on US-Pakistani relations.

Finally, I would like to mention an interesting blog by Hassan Abbas, Research Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His blog, entitled Watandost, discusses affairs in Pakistan and its neighbors. Abbas is a former official of the Pakistani government. In the post, “An Indian Perspective on What Went Wrong with Pakistan” on January 16, Hassan Abbas compares a Nehruvian democracy in India and Cold War driven authoritarianism in Pakistan. Certainly, the United States was obsessed with the Red threat, and Pakistani dictators made use of it to strengthen their positions.

It is not the matter of President Pervez Musharraf himself. It is a matter of Pakistani political structure and history since its independence. The United States, Britain, and European allies can demand further reform to Pakistan. However, as Ashley Tellis commented at the congressional testimony, the reform should be acceptable to Pakistani people, not simply fair and free.