Strengthening Pakistan Helps Protect The U.S.
Pervez Musharraf may be flawed, but he's still our best bet for stability.


The picture could not have been more replete with irony. At London’s fabled Royal Albert Hall last Wednesday, Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was leading a jam session to chants of Pakistan Zindabad (“Long live Pakistan”) with his country’s superstar rock band, Junoon. At home, Islamic fundamentalists opposed to his continued rule as both Pakistan’s army chief and chief politician were banning all forms of music in a concerted effort to Talibanize two of Pakistan’s four provinces.

Such are the contradictions that define the world’s only Islamic nuclear state as Musharraf sits down with President George W. Bush at Camp David later today to ask for major debt relief, a coveted textile-trade deal, and, if things go well, renewal of the military-supply relationship that was halted in 1990 when the U.S. imposed unilateral sanctions against Islamabad for developing nuclear weapons.

Key to Pakistan’s request will be a package that includes advanced U.S. F-16 fighter jets — aircraft deliveries that could begin a process of rectifying the growing conventional imbalances between the Pakistani and Indian air forces. Musharraf has repeatedly implied (the Indians would say threatened) the need for Islamabad to rely on its nuclear arsenal if this disparity is not redressed. He is right to do so, and the administration needs to listen carefully to his arguments.

But as Washington lines up support on all three counts for its embattled ally, Bush must make clear how Islamabad’s requests square with U.S. national-security interests. Musharraf may still be the best bet for stabilizing a very dangerous region, but he’s not invincible and no U.S. president should ever again rely on a single man to represent the alliance between two nations.

Asking Musharraf to settle his self-manufactured domestic political crisis, in which Islamist parties demand his overly broad powers of governance be curtailed, must be at the top of the Bush agenda whether bilateral protocols allow for it or not. Its resolution alone will define the manner in which the general can move on matters of most concern to ordinary Americans.

For the U.S., ending the operations of Osama bin Laden’s terror franchises on Pakistani soil is a vital first step. It is no longer acceptable for Pakistan to deem itself a key ally in the war on terror while terrorist plotting against the U.S. and its allies continues and bin Laden maintains refuge in Pakistan’s northern tribal regions. Neither is it acceptable that the American people be extorted over a few al Qaeda arrests every time Pakistan’s bank balances need replenishing, or hawkish generals run to Musharraf to demand more funding for the next generation of nuclear-capable missiles.

Pakistani intelligence has had a pretty good idea of bin Laden’s whereabouts for some time. President Bush must tell his guest that Pakistan’s babysitting services are no longer needed. The Iraq campaign is over. Al Qaeda cells in Europe and the Middle East have been largely dismantled or are at least under surveillance. And so the time has come to bring the Saudi fugitive to justice before new cells can regenerate and attempt another major terrorist attack.

Since Musharraf can’t sell U.S. special forces’ raids into tribal areas to his army hardliners and Islamic fundamentalists, he needs to quickly agree to a political power-sharing formula with the religious parties who oppose him so he can gain their support for ending al Qaeda operations on Pakistani soil.

This is best done by giving Islamists the role in governance their votes assured them of last October, rather than excluding them from it. Who better to talk to the intransigent tribal warlords of the northwestern areas on the merits of sacrificing a few bad apples among them for the sake of Pakistan’s larger interests than their Islamist brethren?

Another three years as army chief, rather than the five Musharraf wants or the six months the opposition offers, will not materially change his powers or affect Pakistan’s future. Demanding Islamist performance in government over that time is a fair quid pro quo for agreeing to revoke the president’s constitutional powers to dismiss elected parliaments.

If the mullahs have been chosen to represent a segment of Pakistani society, so be it. But they should demonstrate their ability to deliver real results that positively affect the everyday lives of the working classes before Musharraf relinquishes his authority to get rid of them.

Pakistan’s religious parties also sense that compromise is in their interest. By having a stake in the nation’s business, and a responsibility to insure its future, they increase prospects for larger voter support in future polls. Perhaps it’s not the democracy Washington would have preferred when it pushed Musharraf to hold last October’s elections (it certainly was not the outcome he expected), but it could at least be a primitively functioning democracy with some measure of accountability. Even Islamists should be allowed to learn the ropes of self-rule.

Still, the religious parties should understand that much-needed Western investment cannot flow if terrorism strikes at targets domestically. They should understand that a reticent U.S. Congress won’t allow resumption of military sales, or sanction further debt forgiveness at U.S. taxpayer expense, to a state that at a moment’s notice could be taken over by the fanatics in their ranks. That is why they now need to help find and capture the likes of bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s strategic mastermind, so U.S. special forces won’t have to enter the tribal areas and do it for them later.

We can only hope they understand that the collateral damage a chaotic, even violent, confrontation with Musharraf could inflict on the country’s long-term viability is an unacceptable price to pay for what is essentially a clash of titanic egos. Democracy, particularly in Muslim countries, should not be a one person, one vote, one time, exercise.

In the event Pakistan’s Islamists understand none of the above, it should by now be clear to even the most avowed anti-U.S. fanatic that there is zero tolerance in U.S. strategic-planning circles for the emergence of radicalized Islamic states, no matter their previous value to U.S. interests. ZERO.

Which is where India, and the Kashmir dispute, come into the equation. Musharraf will ask Bush to pressure India to come to the negotiating table without making any further concessions on ending Pakistan’s support for Kashmiri militants crossing the Line of Control into Indian-held Kashmir. And he will say no further incursions are taking place — which he can, of course, since most of them went across two months ago.

But rather than getting bogged down in definitions of who’s a terrorist and who’s a freedom fighter, Bush should tell Musharraf that his compromise at home with the religious parties could offer an opportunity to their leaders to become partners in peace negotiations with India over Kashmir’s future.

Giving Pakistan’s Islamists the Kashmir brief would also inspire confidence in India, where political, military, and intelligence officials know very well that only those who support the jihadist culture in Kashmir can dismantle it and thereby settle on a just and peaceful outcome. That outcome is very much in doubt today because of the visceral distrust both sides have for each other’s leaders.

Only last week, India’s deputy prime minister, Lal Krishna Advani, in Washington to front-run Musharraf’s visit, called Pakistan the “epicenter of global terrorism.” Musharraf, in London on the same day Advani met his British counterparts, reminded India that another military showdown in the snowy peaks of Kashmir, as the two sides did in 1999 at Kargil, was not out of the question if India didn’t heel.

With such insane statements coming from the two men who make perhaps the most important decisions in South Asian military and political affairs, it is time for the Bush administration to step in and help build some trust between the two sides that is rooted in factual exchanges rather than hyperbolic dissertations.

Musharraf should be encouraged to direct Pakistan’s intelligence chief, Gen. Ehsan ul-Haq, to meet his Indian counterpart so that hard data about what is or is not happening along Kashmir’s Line of Control can be exchanged between the two sides instead of the heated rhetoric Musharraf and India’s political leaders seem insistent on bandying about.

The Indians stand ready to do so. Pakistan’s reticence is unjustifiable and damages the prospects for a long-term, durable peace. If India and China can agree on formulas for building trust that resolve decades-old border disputes, and can thereby develop strategic ties that benefit both sides, it is inconceivable that India and Pakistan cannot do the same. Musharraf needs to understand that South Asia’s peace train has already left the station and that he should get onboard before its too late.

Finally, Bush needs to ask his guest to accept nuclear-monitoring equipment as part of any U.S. military-aid package — vaults, sensors, alarms, labels, closed-circuit cameras, etc. — that will insure the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear materials from terrorist hands. The equipment would be solely for Islamabad’s internal use to monitor its nuclear facilities. No violation of sovereign rights is implied by becoming a technologically sophisticated, and therefore more responsible nuclear state. Musharraf should accept this assistance without delay.

To help Musharraf understand the magnitude of the problem, the U.S. should share hard intelligence data that shows how far terrorist planning has evolved to build highly explosive dirty radiological bombs for a new wave of attacks. The recent seizure of 750 tons of explosives, enough to create an atomic-sized explosion, on the “Baltic Sky” by Greek authorities is proof positive that al Qaeda’s fleet of tankers and ships around the world are the most likely transport vehicles and detonation chambers for these devices.

And with North Korea threatening to use its Pakistani-assisted nuclear program to sell everything it can produce to any terrorist any day now, the least Pakistan can do for the U.S. is to insure its own nuclear assets don’t fall into the wrong hands.

Musharraf comes to Washington in need of clear signs that the U.S. is not going to walk away from Pakistan’s side again. If he can agree to some important steps that address U.S. concerns, every form of assistance should be on the table: Full debt forgiveness; restructured International Monetary Fund and World Bank loans; a textile deal that relieves pressure on Pakistan’s economy; the best F-16s money can buy so Pakistan can reduce its reliance on missiles and nuclear weapons as deterrents to India’s burgeoning conventional-military superiority.

A strong, responsible Pakistan is in America’s best national interest.

Mansoor Ijaz, a New York financier and NRO contributor, co-authored the blueprint for the July 2000 ceasefire in Kashmir between Muslim militants and Indian security forces.