Fairness for Pakistan

April 16, 1995

Fair's fair. By any standard of equity, refusing a refund for undelivered goods that were paid for is grossly unjust. The United States has good reason to deny delivery of $1 billion in military equipment, including 28 F-16 jet fighters, to Pakistan. But it has no justification for holding onto the payment it received in advance, much less having the gall to charge Pakistan for storage of the sequestered jets. President Clinton is correct in deciding to give the money back or to return it in the form of services that will not reward Pakistan's obduracy about continuing its nuclear weapons program.

Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had that much and a little more to take home from her visit to Washington last week. She appears to have smoothed over some of the rough spots that have emerged recently in U.S. relations with her South Asian nation. But nothing happens in that subcontinent without affecting the delicate balance between Pakistan and India, its much larger neighbor. Washington is courting New Delhi, seeing it as a more important factor in the region. Anything Mr. Clinton does to help Pakistan goes down badly in India, which also has a nuclear program suspected of including weapons development.

Ms. Bhutto played the decades of close political cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan during the Cold War to best advantage. It was a disingenuous argument, because Pakistan's eagerness to play the U.S. ally arose directly from its perceived need for military support against its hostile neighbor India. In that role Pakistan did perform important services for the U.S., providing a bridge to other Muslim nations in the Middle East, a back channel for secret diplomacy with China and a base for operations against the former Soviet puppet regime in Afghanistan. But it did so in self-interest, not out of fondness for U.S-style democracy.

Still, Ms. Bhutto is worthy of Washington's support. She maneuvers with increasing skill between the corrupt old guard of Pakistani politics and the generals who have frequently wrested power from them. She needs to play a strong hand in the rising civil strife in her home province and Pakistan's industrial center Karachi. Giving up the nuclear option (which couldn't conceivably be used against anyone but India) is politically impossible for her as long as her neighbor similarly refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But of Pakistan's political leaders she is the least likely to risk a nuclear disaster. Sooner or later both nations must give up the nuclear option, and not until then should Pakistan get substantial U.S. military aid. Holding onto a justifiable refund is not the answer.

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