From a Musharraf policy to a Pakistan policy

"We should move from a Musharraf policy to a Pakistan policy. We need to build a new relationship with the Pakistani people, with more non-military aid, sustained over a long period of time, so that the moderate majority has a chance to succeed."
—Sen. Joseph Biden, November 2007

"The U.S. has pursued policies in Africa that are akin to our policies in Pakistan, and Mr. Kibaki is one of our African Musharrafs. In the interest of short-term stability, we acquiesce in despotic behavior that eventually creates instability. Granted, these are tough balances to strike. But look at Kenya or Pakistan today, and it's clear that we got the balance wrong."
—Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, Feb 21, 2008

With President Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency late last year, the assassination of party leader Benazir Bhutto that followed shortly thereafter, and the questionably "fair and free" elections of last week, Pakistan has captured worldwide attention and even made the cover of Newsweek this past October as the "World's Most Dangerous Nation." This year alone, we have witnessed rising instability evidenced by General Musharraf tightening his military grip in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to retain power. Some of Musharraf's martial highlights include the sacking and reinstatement of Supreme Court Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, suspending the judiciary, delaying parliamentary elections, storming Islamabad's Red Mosque, sustaining military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and last but not least his suspected involvement in the earth-shattering assassination of his political rival.

Until recently, many of Musharraf's supporters in the West have noted that he is the lesser of all evils and an ally in the so-called Global War on Terror. However, in light of recent events, many policymakers and pundits are already beginning to reconsider such a relationship. New York Times columnist Nick Kristof analogized U.S. foreign policy in Pakistan to its failed strategy in bolstering autocrats in Africa. He noted that our support for these illiberal dictators to ensure long-term stability in the short-run ends up creating greater instability in the long-run. Last November, Sen. Joseph Biden urged the U.S. government to transition from a "Musharraf Policy to a Pakistan Policy," calling for increased non-military aid to strengthen civil society and amplifying the voice of Pakistan's moderate majority. Even with Musharraf's half-hearted attempt to hold elections in February, we are seeing that these elections may not necessarily produce a liberal outcome.

Breaking down U.S. foreign aid to Pakistan, we see a disproportionate amount spent on bolstering military rule. Under Musharraf's reign, the country received $10 billion in U.S. foreign aid, half of which was earmarked for the military. Between 2002 and 2006, only $500 million was spent on development areas such as the economy and education, while $5 billion was spent on bolstering the military. In line with his policy shift, Biden has called for a drastic shift in foreign aid allocation by tripling economic (non-military) aid if the February 18 elections are in fact deemed "fair and free." As Americans vote for a new presidential candidate, there is hope that Biden's proposal may have some impact in influencing a new foreign policy pact and partnership with Pakistan.

The recent elections bring us potential, but not necesarily a promise for change. It seems support for the religious parties may be waning—or are they only taking a principled stand on Musharraf's dual role? The coalition of religious parties reportedly boycotted the parliamentary election though their earlier success in this decade is treated now as an aberration. They may have suffered from internal divisions from which they may not recover when Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam's Fazlur Rahman continued his support for Musharraf. Meanwhile, the resurgence of secular parties including that of Nawaz Sharif are responsive to a platform that included the reinstatement of the Supreme Court justices, resistance to foreign interference, and a removal of Musharraf from power.

What we do know is that many years and billions of dollars in U.S. assistance later, we have little evidence that the country or the world is any safer. Indeed, the ongoing conflict in Waziristan indicates Pakistan (and the world) is still locked in a cycle of violence between militaries and militants. The widely held belief that the West and in particular the United States had no other option but to support Musharraf is now deeply in question. Changing our foreign aid strategy could be a critical first step in generating a sustainable peace and stability to Pakistan and the region. The fade-away of the religious parties and the sudden popularity of Nawaz Sharif may not be a harbinger of change that the Sen. Biden envisions. Rather, it may only be a signal for us to be more skeptical and to think before we jump on bandwagons.


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