A new course on Pakistan

November 12, 2007|By Joseph R. Biden Jr.

History may describe today's Pakistan as a repeat of 1979 Iran or 2001 Afghanistan. Or history may write a very different story: that of Pakistan as a stable, democratic, secular Muslim state. Which future unfolds will be strongly influenced by the actions of the United States.

Pakistan is the most complex country we deal with. It was a crisis waiting to happen. America has a huge stake in the outcome of this crisis - and in the path Pakistan follows.

Pakistan has strong democratic traditions and a large, moderate majority. But that moderate majority must have a voice in the system and an outlet with elections. If not, moderates may make common cause with extremists, just as the Shah's opponents did in Iran three decades ago. But unlike Iran, Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. It is hard to imagine a greater nightmare for America than the world's second-largest Muslim nation becoming a failed state in fundamentalist hands.

To prevent that nightmare from becoming a reality, I believe we need to do three things:

First, we must take an active role in the current crisis and make it clear to Pakistan that actions have consequences. After Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution and imposed de facto martial law, President Bush's first reaction was to call on him to reverse course. Given the stakes, I thought it was important to actually call him, and I did so. President Musharraf and I had a very direct and detailed discussion. I told him it is critical that elections go forward as planned early next year, that he follow through on his commitment to take off his uniform, and that he restore the rule of law to Pakistan. I also spoke to opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

It was clear to me that Mr. Musharraf understands the consequences if he does not return Pakistan to the path of democracy. For starters, U.S. military aid will be in great jeopardy.

Second, we must move from a Musharraf policy to a Pakistan policy that gives the moderate majority a chance to succeed. The current U.S.-Pakistan relationship is largely transactional - and this transaction isn't working for either party.

America has spent billions on a bet that Pakistan's government would crush the Taliban and al-Qaida while putting the country back on the path to democracy. It has done neither. For its part, Pakistan sees America as an unreliable ally that will abandon Pakistan at the first moment of convenience.

It is time for a new approach. We should triple nonsecurity aid, to $1.5 billion annually, for at least a decade, without conditions. That sounds like a lot, but it is what we spend in Iraq every week. Instead of funding military hardware, it would build schools, clinics and roads. I would provide an additional $1 billion in nonmilitary assistance - a democracy dividend - in the first year after democratic rule is restored. Nothing is more important than helping Pakistan's democratic leaders demonstrate that they can do better than the generals and the fundamentalists in delivering real change for the country.

We should maintain our military assistance but condition it on clear results in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida. And we should engage the Pakistani people, not just their rulers, on issues that matter to them, from textile quotas to visas to the Bush administration's policies on torture. If we do all these things, we will fundamentally and positively shift the dynamic between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Third, this new policy cannot succeed in isolation. We must help create conditions in the region that maximize the chances of success and minimize the prospects for failure. When we shifted resources away from Afghanistan to Iraq, Mr. Musharraf concluded that the Taliban would rebound, so he cut a deal with them. Redoubling our efforts in Afghanistan would embolden Pakistan's government to take a harder line on the Taliban and al-Qaida.

We should also stop the overheated rhetoric about war with Iran, which allows Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a distraction from his failures and adds a huge security premium to the price of oil. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, anything that fuels the sense of an American crusade against Islam puts moderates on the defensive and empowers extremists. It is hard to think of a more self-defeating policy.

Pakistan can be a bridge between the West and the global Islamic community. Most Pakistanis want a lasting friendship with America. They respect and admire our society. But they are mystified over what they see as our failure to live up to our ideals. The current crisis is an opportunity to start anew, to build a relationship between Pakistan and the United States upon which both our peoples can depend and be proud.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His e-mail is at www.biden.senate.gov.

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