The New Phase in U.S.-Pakistani Relations

Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, photographed at Chandini Restaurant, Newark, CA. iFaqeer

After a period of more than a decade during which Afghanistan dominated the political situation in South Asia, the withdrawal of Soviet forces has significantly altered the political situation within the region. India and Pakistan face new realities, and outside powers will also need to readjust their policies to take account of the changing issues in the region.

The political developments within Pakistan over the past year-the dismissal of civilian government in June 1988, the death of President Zia ul-Haq in August, national and provincial elections in November and the accession of Benazir Bhutto to the prime ministership-have altered not only the internal scene in Pakistan, but also the context in which Pakistan relates to its neighbors and to the rest of the world.

The Soviet involvement in Afghanistan drew the United States into a much more active role in South Asia than it had played for over a decade; a restored U.S. relationship with Pakistan was the principal channel. In Afghanistan the United States achieved a signal policy success; the determination of both the Carter and Reagan administrations to back the Afghan resistance forces has paid off beyond all expectations. The restoration of democratic rule in Pakistan is also something in which Americans can take satisfaction. Although the overwhelming credit belongs to the Pakistani people (just as the success in Afghanistan belongs largely to Afghans), the United States played a more than marginal role by making clear its preference for the restoration of democracy.

Like most foreign policy successes, these two developments have spawned new problems. The United States must consider how to react to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan: Should we use this favorable situation to enhance our role in the region along the Soviets' southern flank? Or should the United States reduce its heavy commitment in such a distant region and postpone thinking about South Asia until more pressing problems elsewhere have been taken in hand?

Similarly, the U.S. relationship with Pakistan needs reshaping. The Soviet withdrawal

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