There is no doubt today that the idea of placing all our hopes with President Musharraf of Pakistan was a poor choice. Had President Bush listened instead of swagger the world might be in a different spot today. There was plenty of debate about the course American foreign policy should take in relation to Pakistan. But Bush opted for a policy that was based on Musharraf, instead of a broad based Pakistan policy. In the end, Bush’s hope to bring democracy to the Muslim world, and his desire to force out the Islamist militants who have hung on tenaciously in Pakistan have both failed.
Having said that there is a wonderful editorial in Friday’s New York Times that must be read.
Betting America’s security (and Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal) on an unaccountable dictator, President Pervez Musharraf, did not work. Betting it on a back-room alliance between that dictator and Ms. Bhutto, who had hoped to win a third try as prime minister next month, is no longer possible.
That leaves Mr. Bush with the principled, if unfamiliar, option of using American prestige and resources to fortify Pakistan’s badly battered democratic institutions. There is no time to waste.
With next month’s parliamentary elections already scrambled, Washington must now call for new rules to assure a truly democratic vote.
That means a relatively brief delay to allow Ms. Bhutto’s party, probably the country’s largest, to choose a new candidate for prime minister and mount an abbreviated campaign. Washington must also demand that Pakistan’s other main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, be allowed to run. And it must insist that Mr. Musharraf reinstate the impartial Supreme Court judges he fired last month in order to block them from overturning his rigged election.
Mr. Musharraf is stubborn. Washington will need to send the same message to Pakistan’s military leaders, perhaps the ex-general’s only remaining backers.
The Bush administration has to rethink more than just its unhealthy and destructive enabling of Mr. Musharraf. It also must take a hard look at the billions it is funneling to Pakistan’s military. That money is supposed to finance the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. As a report in The Times on Monday showed, Washington hasn’t kept a close watch, and much of it has gone to projects that interested Mr. Musharraf and the Pakistani Army more, like building weapons systems aimed at America’s ally, India. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda and the Taliban continued, and continue, to make alarming gains.
The United States cannot afford to have Pakistan unravel any further. The lesson of the last six years is that authoritarian leaders — even ones backed with billions in American aid — don’t make reliable allies, and they can’t guarantee security.
American policy must now be directed at building a strong democracy in Pakistan that has the respect and the support of its own citizens and the will and the means to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan is a nation of 165 million people. The days of Washington mortgaging its interests there to one or two individuals must finally come to an end.
Technorati Tags: Pakistan, NewYorkTimes, PervezMusharraf, NawazSharif, BenazirBhutto, PresidentBush, ForeignPolicy