Show Pakistan we're no fair-weather friend
SALT LAKE CITY — As the United States reshapes its post-Sept. 11 foreign policy - allying itself with those who ally themselves against terrorism - the case of Pakistan demands special consideration.
Pakistan's cooperation in the war against the Taliban may not have been the deciding factor in achieving success, but without it the campaign would have been immensely more difficult. Pakistan provided valuable intelligence to the US about Taliban operations in Afghanistan.
American special operations units and paratroopers were permitted to use three air bases in southern Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf agreed to overflights of US strike aircraft launched from carriers in the Arabian Sea against Taliban positions in Afghanistan. We may never know the extent of other Pakistani cooperation provided to the US.
The acquaintance that most Americans have with Pakistanis is with the skillful doctors and scientists who emigrate and are found in hospitals and Silicon Valley computer companies, and the bright students studying at American universities, such as those who play Sunday cricket at the park near my house. But their homeland is a turbulent place, seething with complex politics that has enjoyed an on-again, off-again relationship with the US for several decades.
That relationship is on again as a result of President Musharraf's decision to throw in his lot with the US on the antiterrorism front. The US desperately needed Pakistan as a staging point for the campaign in Afghanistan. It just as desperately wanted a stable regime in Islamabad that could prevent Pakistan's nuclear devices, probably enough to make some 30 medium-sized nuclear bombs, from falling into extremist Islamic hands. In return, Musharraf, who is also an Army general, saw major military advantages and a lot of help for Pakistan's sputtering economy in a renewed alliance with the US.
Pakistan felt jilted when the US cut off aid in the 1970s, because of its developing nuclear program. In the 1980s, the aid pipeline was turned on again to encourage Pakistani resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But by the '90s, with the Soviets out of Afghanistan, the aid dried up again.
This time, there should be more constancy to the American commitment. This requires diplomatic deftness, because the US also needs a good relationship with neighboring India. India and Pakistan have a brittle association, much of it exacerbated by their rival claims to Kashmir. But Secretary of State Colin Powell has been careful to keep US relations with India sweet even as he eulogizes the new US alliance with Pakistan.
There are four areas in which the US-Pakistan relationship should be strengthened:
1. The economy. The US has lifted earlier sanctions against Pakistan, promised a billion dollars in aid, and perhaps greater access to American markets for Pakistani textiles. Pakistan also needs help from the international financial community with the restructuring of its multibillion-dollar foreign debt. The US can use its muscle to reinforce Pakistan's economic stability.
2. Education. Before Pakistan underwent its conversion to the side of the US and against the Taliban, some of its Army officers and its Inter-Services Intelligence agency forged an ill-conceived alliance with the Taliban that ultimately went awry. In the process, Pakistan permitted a network of religious schools (madrassas) on its own territory, many of which became hotbeds for the propagation of fundamentalist hatred rather than traditional education. The US may have some resources for the return of these schools to legitimate educational pursuits.
3. The military. Musharraf appears to be shuffling the military establishment to remove some of its more extremist layers. If this goes forward, it will give heart to those other officers, many of whom have had good relations with the American military establishment, who have been obliged to lie low during their Army's flirtation with the Taliban. The US has a vested interest in encouraging and reviving these old associations.
4. Public diplomacy. In a string of Islamic lands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, the United States faces a gargantuan information challenge. Pakistan should be high on that list of target countries.
Although Pakistan's religious extremists have never been able to muster much more than 5 percent of the popular vote in elections, they are vociferous and have mounted serious anti-American demonstrations. They may be reinforced by Taliban "defectors" who have slithered back across the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and not forgone their fundamentalist beliefs. The US must reach Pakistan's moderates with its message countering the negativism of Osama bin Laden.
Long-term involvements like this will help convince Pakistan that, this time, the United States is no fair-weather friend.
John Hughes is a former editor of the Monitor and editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret News.