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Guest Voice

Pakistan’s Paradoxes

By Haider Ali Hussein Mullick

Three major paradoxes are shaping U.S.-Pakistan relations. They must be understood before prescribing any set of U.S. policies to stop Pakistan’s continuing descent into political instability.

First, increasing anti-Americanism, caused by blank-check American support for President Pervez Musharraf and a failed pact between Musharraf and Bhutto, have made Americans wary of meddling in Pakistani politics. However, not interfering is not an option while the only predominantly Muslim country with nuclear weapons and al-Qaeda safe havens continues to implode.

Second, most Pakistani judicial and media activists, civil society organizations, and political parties believe that domestic terrorism is a real threat. They also believe that it is a byproduct of an eight-year-old contract between the U.S. and Musharraf that has been marred by disingenuous cooperation and mistrust. However, opposition members must cozy up with the same Americans to get rid of Musharraf, and consequently present themselves as viable alternatives to Musharraf.

Third, President Musharraf must hold credible elections to ease political pressure, but he also needs to guarantee a two-thirds majority in the post-election parliament to legitimize his extra-constitutional decrees after he imposed emergency last year. The U.S. supports elections, but is not quite ready for a Pakistan without Musharraf.

Within the context of these three paradoxes, the U.S. should first focus on improving Pakistan’s counterinsurgency efforts and then mediate between political players to help preserve the Pakistani federation.

Pakistan is under siege from a primarily indigenous terrorist threat from al-Qaeda and its affiliates, most notably Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Movement for a Talibanized Pakistan) under Baitullah Mehsud, and Tarik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammidi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law) under Mullah Fazlullah. By exploiting local political and religious power structures, al-Qaeda has coalesced a predominantly Pashtun insurgency into a dynamic Pakistani Taliban movement determined to replace the Pakistani nation-state.

In addition to domestic terrorism, ethnic strife amongst millions of Sindhis, Baluchs, and Pashtuns is corroding Punjab-dominated Islamabad’s credibility. Most of them want to vent their frustrations through elections, but some have found refuge in separatist militant organizations.

What Can Be Done? Addressing These Paradoxes

First, ongoing U.S.–Pakistan military-to-military contacts and training exercises are steps in the right direction. However, the gravity of the situation demands a doubling of U.S. counterterrorism aid and training, increasing intelligence and security collaboration, and the immediate delivery of much-needed equipment and hardware.

Second, while avoiding large-scale collateral damage, prime targets such as high-profile terrorists, training camps, hideouts, and weapons caches should be taken out without delay. Then Islamabad should push for genuine political reconciliation, promising Pashtuns greater autonomy and political maneuvering in exchange for eradicating grassroots al-Qaeda and Taliban support. Finally, learning from the Provincial Reconstruction Team model, and Reconstruction Opportunity Zones, Islamabad’s economic policy must be inclusively planned and pragmatically implemented.

Third, before the February elections, Pakistani military should continue handling U.S. aid. After the elections, the newly elected parliament and the Prime Minister must work together with the military to increase accountability and efficacy of U.S. aid. Only an elected government will be able to pacify the Pakistani street, and more importantly explain why Pakistanis have to kill their fellow citizens in a war that they did not start and do not understand, but which they must fight – ostensibly to preserve their republic.

Finally, Musharraf’s duplicitous image – on one hand, a lone warrior against a unilateral U.S. attack on Pakistani soil, on the other hand, America’s best hope against nuclear-weapons-hungry terrorists – is waning. His need to vindicate his unconstitutional laws after the elections may push him to compromise with the political parties before the elections. The opposition may reciprocate since they have not pressed for Musharraf’s resignation, but have instead insisted upon an independent election commission and an impartial caretaker government. The United States could encourage such an indigenous symbiotic relationship by using its foreign aid leverage.

The United States’ security objectives will be best achieved in a politically stable and militarily strong Pakistan. Supporting a single candidate or party is as dangerous as watching Pakistan plunge into chaos from the sidelines. While Pakistanis are not looking up to the Americans, they are surely looking to them to give democracy a chance in February.

Haider Ali Hussein Mullick researches American foreign policy toward South Asia.

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Finally an American pundit who really gets it. Pleasantly surprised.


Would a new civilian government elected in a free and fair elections force the ISI to end its support to Jehadi/Islamic/Freedomfighters,especially to Kashmiri terrorists ? If not, then increasing counter terrorism intelligence, aid etc will not help the American Policy of stabilizing Pakistan. Until Pakistan and specifically ISI cuts the umbilical link with the J/I/F completely there will be no change in Pakistan's commitment to fight terrorism, in my opinion and i believe in the opinion of a lot of people who are your eastern neighbours. I do hope the American administration understands and insists the same from a new Pakistani civilian Government if the new Government will not do on its own accord of cutting the umbilical link.


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