Getting together on Pakistan

Less than a year ago the Carter administration was prepared to deny military aid to Pakistan as long as it refused to give assurances it would not develop nuclear weapons. The Soviet thrust into Afghanistan has overshadowed that commendably motivated policy. In the face of the threat which the Soviet move poses, the US now is offering a package of economic and military aid to Pakistan. The need is clear. It is not seriously thought the Russians will come barrelling over the border in an overt attack on Pakistan. But two other dangers loom: one, that they will pursue Afghan rebels across the frontier and, two, that they will use their base in Afghanistan to stir up ethnic troubles and undermine Pakistan's stability -- in the hope they can eventually extend their own power toward the Persian Gulf.

The US is therefore fully justified in placing new focus on its security agreement with Pakistan and acting under it. At the same time we are glad to see the US making an effort to internationalize the aid as much as possible. The Soviet aggression affects the security of all nations in the region and should not be seen as provoking a confrontation solely with the United States. Others, too, have reason and an obligation to respond. West European cooperation in an aid program, together with the help which Saudi Arabia and China also are quietly giving or will give, should lend international moral force to these countermeasures and impress on the Russians how unacceptable their policy is to the world community.

How much and what kind of military aid should be given the Pakistanis is still a matter of discussion. So weighty a critic as Henry Kissinger suggests the US should consider establishing air and naval bases in Pakistan. On the face of it, it strikes us as dubious to contemplate putting US military installations into a country in which Islamic militants only recently stormed and burned the US Embassy. Would not such bases be an open target for anti-Americanism? The reluctance of other nations in the Middle East and Africa to accept US bases also suggests this is not a prudent route in the 1980s. Certainty the initiative for military assistance ought to come from the regional powers and the aid itself eased in rather than pressed upon the area in such a way as to alarm everyone. The concerns India has about aid to Pakistan, for instance, point to the sensitivities needing to be taken into account.

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Something else also has to be taken into account and that is the shaky nature of the government in Pakistan. President Zia ul-Haq has not proved himself an astute or popular leader. The economy is in a mess, despite all the power he wields. He confronts public disaffection because of his repressive measures. He is feeding opposition among the Baluchis and other ethnic groups because of his unwillingness to come to terms even with the moderates in the separatist movements. The US, by becoming too closely identified with President Zia, could find itself again propping up a no-win leader, as it did in Iran.

In this uneasy situation it would be unwise for the US to abandon its concerns about human rights. Even while offering economic and military aid to Pakistan, the US should seek to influence President Zia to broaden his base of political support. It can also make clear that the aim of the aid is to uphold the territorial integrity of Pakistan -- not any one given leader.

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