A False Choice in Pakistan

Courtesy Reuters


Even before the dust had settled on 9/11, U.S. policymakers were well aware that Pakistan was at the center of the world's worst Islamist terrorist networks. The Bush administration quickly moved to persuade once-sanctioned Islamabad to become an essential partner in the "global war on terror." But today, nearly six years after Secretary of State Colin Powell first announced that Washington and Islamabad stood "at the beginning of a strengthened relationship," the Taliban are still entrenched in the Afghan-Pakistani border region, al Qaeda's top leaders have found a secure hideout in Pakistan, and terrorist attacks within and beyond Pakistan's borders persist with deadly regularity.

Given these failures, it is no surprise that Americans are increasingly frustrated with the slow and uncertain progress in Pakistan. Many, including some members of the U.S. Congress and a number of serious Pakistan watchers, have begun to express fundamental doubts about the U.S. partnership with Islamabad. They question whether President Pervez Musharraf -- a general who took power after a coup in 1999 -- and his military are trustworthy allies willing and able to stand on the frontlines in defense of U.S. security. They allege that recent deals between the Pakistani government and tribal elders in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan look suspiciously like capitulation to the Taliban, orchestrated by Pakistani intelligence agencies with ties to known extremists. They charge, in short, that Musharraf and his allies in Islamabad have taken billions of dollars in U.S. aid while doing too little to advance -- and, in many ways, much to undermine -- the fight against terrorism.

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

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