...election results are being viewed as a turning point in Pakistan’s chequered history….The US, however, appears to have failed to appreciate the significance of the forces thrown up in the wake of Musharraf’s mauling of the Constitution and repeated assaults on state institutions, all of which helped breed defiance in civil society. Sadly, Washington remained a prisoner of its own past and thus unable to look beyond the narrow confines of the war on terror, the pursuit of which, in its view, has become synonymous with the person of Musharraf. This is a huge mistake though, if the past is any guide, it is very much in keeping with earlier American errors.
Admittedly, the US has powerful interests in Pakistan, given the country’s geopolitical importance and its pivotal role in the global war on terror. Over the past years, it has used Pakistan’s territory and military resources not only to pursue the war on terror, but also to prevent proliferation of nuclear and missile weapons, material or technology to extremists or non-state actors. Moreover, NATO’s widening presence in Afghanistan and its growing operations in the border areas are added reasons to secure Pakistan’s cooperation. But having worked under an arrangement, the details of which have not been shared with the political leadership, the Bush administration is loath to have to now deal with a democratic dispensation, which by its very nature, will seek a more balanced and equitable relationship with the US.
The ability of authoritarian regimes to offer ‘concessions’ to foreign
powers is not available to elected representatives. It was therefore no surprise
that the US would look with horror to this cozy relationship being disturbed and
that too by people viewed as too ‘nationalist’. The US feels that these objectives can be better achieved by ensuring that Musharraf retain control over the levers of power and thus its current emphasis on a ‘hybrid’ government in Pakistan. This also explains Washington’s inability to begin distancing itself from Musharraf. Bush has phoned Musharraf to reiterate his support for him, while Secretary Rice has come out with a strong endorsement, calling Musharraf the man the US has been dealing with and wants to continue doing so. She added that loss of parliamentary support should not necessarily weaken Musharraf, an embarrassing evidence of her ignorance of the Pakistani political landscape. The likely Republican presidential candidate, Sen John McCain, too, has rejected calls for Musharraf’s resignation calling him ‘a legitimately elected President’. Some Democrats also endorsed this view.
It would also appear that Washington is either ignorant of or oblivious
to the real meaning of the elections. This is evident from Bush claiming that
the election results are a ‘part of the victory in the war on terror’. Nothing
could be further from the truth as evident from polls carried out by credible
international organisations, such as the Pew Project and the International
Republican Institute, which showed that 70 per cent of Pakistanis want Musharraf to immediately resign, another 89 per cent disapprove of the US war on terror and nearly an equal number are opposed to allowing the US or NATO forces to operate in Pakistan.
The US may continue to see Musharraf as the ‘bond’ that holds Pakistan
together, but the country’s overwhelming majority see him as the cause of
polarisation and a source of instability. Thus, there is a major chasm between the Bush administration and the Pakistani public and recent statements from Washington threaten to deepen this divide.
While it is true that no democratic government in Pakistan can provide
a carte blanche to the US in the manner and to the extent that Musharraf has,
mainstream parties are opposed to terrorism and their leadership consists of
modern, moderate and progressive politicians. They are however convinced that
military option is not the answer to the problem and may even be counter-productive. Instead, they advocate a more nuanced approach, in which the military effort would be complemented with economic development, social benefits and political dialogue. Incidentally, this is the approach being now advocated by Sen Biden, who wants the US to triple its non-military aid, sustain it for ten years and focus on schools, health care and roads. In other words, more diplomacy and resources and less force and violence.
Washington needs to recognise the folly of having crafted a policy around the person of Musharraf, ignoring the interests of the people of Pakistan. If Washington has a genuine preference for democracy, it needs to cut itself off from its attachment to Musharraf. President Bush needs to recall the wisdom contained in one of his speeches, when he stated that “if people are permitted to choose their own destiny…then the extremists will be marginalised and the flow of violent radicalism to the rest of the world will slow and eventually end.”
How true and the US can make it happen in Pakistan. If the US wants
peace and stability in Pakistan and a genuine ally, it should place its trust in
the people of the country and step in with a strong and unequivocal support for
the restoration of a democratic dispensation. This will not only enhance its
moral standing, but also become a powerful message to other Muslim
countries.—Dawn, Feb 28
The words by the two frontrunners for Democratic
Party candidature, give an indication of the way Pakistan is looked at in the
United States. For people in Pakistan, however, the words are ominous. For one,
they suggest that the Democratic Party too sees a strong US role as essential in
Pakistan. Neither of the candidates appears to realize that it is these
perceptions regarding US intervention in Pakistan that is contributing to the
extremist problem within it, and indeed to the rise in terrorism.
A more sagacious and far-looking approach may bring dividends. Now that
Pakistan's people have given a verdict, it is important to allow the forces
voted in by them to take forward the war on militancy — by building a consensus
with the people of Pakistan, and particularly those based in tribal areas. Given
the degree of mistrust that exists for the US across Pakistan, and the
perception is that it is determining actions within the country will only
complicate an already complex problem. What it is important for US leaders to
realize is that Pakistan itself must be seen as combating terror on its own. To
do this, the hearts of people must be won over —through persuasion, and by
granting them more in terms of education, health and welfare. It is in these
areas that US support can come in handy. Otherwise threats and harsh words will
only aggravate the issue that currently most threatens stability in Pakistan and
poses a threat to all its citizens.—The News,Feb
Friday, February 29, 2008
Pakistani Media on Washington's Attitude
Pakistani media comment sees Washington's attitude toward Pakistan since its recent parliamentary election, in which both Islamic militants and military dictatorship were rejected, as a "huge mistake" that threatens to "deepen the divide" between the Bush Administration and the Pakistani people.