Pakistan Again Poses Dilemma for U.S.
Aug 9, 6:21 AM (ET)
By KEN GUGGENHEIM
WASHINGTON (AP) - Pakistan has again proved it is the single-most crucial player in the war on terror: the site of an al-Qaida ring that was targeting this country and led to the raising of the terror alert, and the nation whose cooperation is needed most to make arrests happen.
The commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said it flatly: The role of Pakistan in the struggle against Islamic terrorism can't be overstated.
All this has many critics wondering if the Bush administration is pressing Pakistan hard enough to fight terror and extremism, or if a country wavering on the edge of chaos could be pushed to do more.
They worry the administration may be ignoring a time bomb - and a nuclear time bomb at that.
To assure Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's support on al-Qaida, they say, the administration hasn't pressed him enough on fighting nuclear proliferation. Nor has it pushed him on Pakistan's lack of democracy, its poor human rights record - or its extremist-teaching schools.
Some fear those factors could lead to turmoil in Pakistan resulting in America's worst nightmare: a hostile, nuclear-armed Islamic state.
For U.S. policy-makers, it's a dilemma: How far can they go in seeking changes in Pakistan without alienating Musharraf or driving his shaky government to the brink of collapse?
"Our relationship with Pakistan is probably the most complex of that of any country," said California Rep. Tom Lantos, the top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee.
Pakistan has been seen as one of President Bush's successes. Before the Sept. 11 attacks, Pakistan had strongly supported the Taliban government in Afghanistan that gave refuge to al-Qaida. But two days after the attacks, the United States pressed Pakistan to end cooperation with the Taliban and provide military and intelligence assistance.
Musharraf's forces have since worked closely with the United States in pursuing Osama bin Laden along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and arresting al-Qaida operatives. Presumably as a result, Musharraf has been the target of assassination attempts.
The Sept. 11 commission described Musharraf's government as "the best hope for stability in Afghanistan." It also called on the United States to "make the difficult long-term commitment to the future of Pakistan."
But some analysts say those goals may be contradictory - that U.S. support for Musharraf may undermine America's long-term credibility in Pakistan.
The United States is "focusing too much on the individual instead of the government," said Walter Andersen, a former South Asia analyst at the State Department. "We're not doing enough to support the structures of democracy in Pakistan."
Bush last year proposed a five-year, $3 billion assistance program to Pakistan that is evenly divided between military and nonmilitary aid.
But Democrats say the United States needs to provide more aid for education. Pakistan's public school system is poor and many young men attend madrassas - religious schools that often teach a radical form of Islam.
"We need to do a much better job of promoting democracy, supporting secular education and combating poverty and corruption," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry wants "a comprehensive strategy toward Pakistan, not one that is substantially one-dimensional," said his senior national security adviser, Susan Rice. That requires more investment "in secular education and economic development," she said.
White House spokesman Sean McCormack said the administration has already expanded the relationship with Pakistan to include democratic and school reforms.
"I would argue really that this administration began a much broader and deeper relationship with Pakistan," he said. "It's not focused on trying to browbeat the Pakistanis on a single issue of terrorism."
Even on terrorism, though, some have questioned Pakistan's commitment.
Musharraf has been criticized for not stopping Islamic militants in the disputed Kashmir region with India and for not thwarting Taliban fighters opposing the new government in Afghanistan.
In April, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said flatly: "The Taliban and other terrorist organizations continue to be able to base, train and operate from Pakistani territory."
Moreover, Musharraf pardoned a leading nuclear scientist who had passed nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
Overall, the United States sends Musharraf signals that as long as things are going well on the terrorism issue, "we'll tolerate a great deal else," said Marvin Weinbaum, a former Pakistan analyst for the State Department.
"We will not make life difficult for him," Weinbaum said. "He's too important to us."