U.S. Must Rethink Pakistan

By Rubin, Trudy | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 6, 2008 | Go to article overview

U.S. Must Rethink Pakistan


Rubin, Trudy, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Americans are focused on the presidential primaries. But an election campaign halfway around the world will have enormous impact on their lives.

I refer to elections in Pakistan, from which I just returned after a sobering two weeks. Pakistan just deferred its ballot from Jan. 8 to Feb. 18, after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Her country has become the key sanctuary for al-Qaida and Taliban forces, along with other jihadis trying to seize control of portions of a nation that has nukes.

Having visited both Iraq and Pakistan in December, I can say without hesitation that the latter is now the scarier of the two. The Bush administration must rethink its Pakistan policy quickly -- or watch the threat increase.

The U.S. policy of unqualified support for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has to change.

U.S. officials had been encouraging Musharraf to share power with Bhutto. Musharraf had promised U.S. officials he would rescind constitutional provisions that banned her from a third prime ministerial term. He double-crossed Washington -- and her -- by failing to do so; instead, he declared martial law in November and threw most of Pakistan's leading judges in jail.

The Pakistani president claimed that martial law was necessary to fight Islamist militants. They have been setting off record numbers of suicide bombs in Pakistani cities and expanding their bases outward from sanctuaries along the Afghan border.

In reality, martial law was meant to let Musharraf hold on to presidential power (Pakistan's Supreme Court had challenged the legitimacy of his re-election by parliament). Indeed, the militants' strength had been multiplying on Musharraf's watch, in part, because of his political alliance with Islamist parties who enabled the jihadis. The Pakistani president never made clear to his public the danger that Islamist militants presented.

Only Bhutto had the guts to challenge the widespread belief that the fight against Islamists was America's war and to proclaim that this fight was necessary for Pakistan's survival. …

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