As Pakistan Changes, Should U.S. Policy?

Article excerpt

The Bush administration's focus on military solutions against extremists in Pakistan has analysts concerned that the US is persisting in a failed policy with a critical ally at a time when changing circumstances in the region - including a newly elected government in Pakistan and heightened conflict in Afghanistan - demand a strategy shift.

Last week, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte called on Pakistan to drive extremism from its tribal areas, saying "we will not be satisfied" until all militant activity is under control. Mr. Negroponte, speaking in Washington, stressed the importance of maintaining a strong relationship between the two countries.

But critics say his remarks show the US stance toward Pakistan is not changing quickly enough to factor in the weakening of longtime ally President Pervez Musharraf and the emergence of a democratically elected government.

Recent events reflect increased dissension between the two countries since the new government took over earlier this year.

Pakistan has signaled it will negotiate with militants in a bid to calm the restive border region, a move Washington opposes. It has also frowned upon the US military's appointment of a senior American officer, Maj. Gen. Jay Hood, as military envoy to Islamabad.

"There is growing consensus that ... the war on terrorism must be maintained for the good of Pakistan," said Tariq Fatemi, a retired member of the Pakistani Foreign Service, speaking in Washington on Tuesday. "But the methodology which is to be used ... has to be different."

There is widespread pressure in the US for Pakistan to use military options to address increased activity by extremist elements in the border region, including Al Qaeda and the Taliban, thought responsible for much of the rise in violence in neighboring Afghanistan.

But experts like Mr. Fatemi want to see the US focus more on political and economic efforts and less on military options.

The US may also need to wean itself from its ties to Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who may not survive the political transition to the new government. That would be the real test of a new American approach to Pakistan, according to Frederic Grare, a visiting scholar with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

The US military withdrew the appointment of General Hood after heavy criticism in the Pakistani media of his former role overseeing suspected war-on-terror detainees at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. US Central Command in Florida pulled Hood's name two weeks ago, saying Friday that he was being reassigned for a "job of greater importance."

"We consider it a very, very important position and building and maintaining a relationship with not only the government but the military," says Capt. …