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Last Build Date: Mon, 02 Jul 2007 00:33:22 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007
 



Musharraf is Still the Best Bet--for Now

Mon, 02 Jul 2007 00:33:22 -0600

These critics advocate a new approach to Pakistan. They press for tougher talk from Washington -- including threats of sanctions -- in order to pressure Islamabad into undertaking more aggressive counterterrorism operations. And they argue that the United States should cut off Musharraf and push for a transition to civilian democratic rule. Musharraf's military regime, they suggest, will never be a trustworthy partner capable of effectively fighting militancy and extremist ideologies. It is true that Pakistan's government needs greater popular legitimacy -- won through the ballot box -- in order to advance both long- and short-term counterterrorism goals. But the critics' prescriptions for how to advance these goals risk throwing the United States, Pakistan, and the war on terrorism off course without offering a better alternative. If members of the Pakistani army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) retain ties to militant groups, including Taliban sympathizers, they do so as a hedge against abandonment by Washington. The past six decades of on-again, off-again bilateral cooperation have undermined Pakistani confidence in long-term U.S. partnership. Washington, accordingly, should resist the appeal of the cathartic but counterproductive approach of confronting Islamabad with more sticks and fewer carrots. Any attempt to crack down on Pakistan will exacerbate distrust, resulting in increased Pakistani support for jihadists; coercive threats will undermine confidence without producing better results. Nor is democracy a magic bullet. Pakistan's security services will not easily be cowed, sidelined, or circumvented, and the challenges facing democracy in Pakistan go far beyond rigged elections or exiled politicians. Weak civilian institutions and a history of dysfunctional civil-military relations mean that bringing democracy to Pakistan is less a matter of resuscitation than of reinvention. Still, success in Pakistan's long-term struggle against extremism will eventually demand a thoroughgoing democratic transition in Islamabad, even if that transition is not realistic at the moment. The Bush administration has failed to broaden its partnership with Pakistan much beyond army headquarters; it views the civilian dimension of Pakistani politics as a distraction rather than an integral part of the counterterrorism effort. Most Pakistanis believe that Washington is all too happy to work with a pliant army puppet. Islamabad needs greater popular legitimacy in order to muster grass-roots support for the counterterrorism agenda. The United States should work to empower Pakistan's moderate civilians even as it builds trust with Pakistan's security forces. These goals are not contradictory: Washington can win the confidence of Pakistan's military establishment without accepting its exclusive political authority, and it can help empower civilian leadership without jeopardizing the army's core interests. Pakistan's upcoming national elections, likely to be conducted in the fall of 2007, open the way for a fresh political configuration in Islamabad. To capitalize on this opportunity, the Bush administration will need to carry off a tough balancing act. On the one hand, Washington must lend vocal support to Pakistan's democratic process, resisting those who wrongly warn that elections will usher in a Hamas-style victory for extremists. Only blatantly rigged elections would be likely to boost the Islamists' share of the vote above the historic highs achieved in 2002. Free and fair elections would favor mainstream parties, enabling a negotiated alliance between the army and a new, more progressive government. On the other hand, Washington must resist the facile notion that Pakistan's military is the main obstacle to counterterrorism efforts. Pakistan's civilian leaders have nearly always had to negotiate a working relationship with the army in which generals retained significant decision-making power. Pakistan's next leader, regardless of party affiliation, will almost certainly have to give in to this reality, too. And even if[...]