Pakistan's Progress

March 11th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Pakistan's Progress

Wall Street Journal
March 11, 2008
Pg. 20
By Kay Bailey Hutchison
A democratic transition of power is taking shape in Pakistan. Last month, the country held parliamentary elections that were a resounding defeat for President Pervez Musharraf. This week the country's two main political parties worked out a power-sharing agreement. A new prime minister could be named within days.
This is encouraging, but it fuels a debate in Washington over whether the United States should prop up Mr. Musharraf. My view is that we have a better chance of finding a strong ally in the war on terror in Pakistan if a legitimate democratic government takes root.
And make no mistake, we need a strong ally against al Qaeda in Pakistan. The country is fighting terrorism at every level of its society, but its ability to carry on this fight is weakened by the fragility of its constitutional order and the impotence of its governing institutions. Terrorists thrive when a nation can't control its own territory, and when the government is seen as illegitimate by its people -- two conditions that have existed in Pakistan for years as it has exported both terrorism and black-market nuclear technology.
Unfortunately, all of Pakistan's leaders are flawed. Mr. Musharraf took power in 1999 in a military coup. Ali Zardari, head of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), spent time in prison on corruption charges, which he claimed were politically motivated (some have recently been dismissed). Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister who is head of the Muslim League, has a tendency toward anti-Americanism.
However, there are redeeming qualities in all of these men. Mr. Musharraf loosened his grip on power, took off his military uniform, and allowed fair parliamentary elections. He also conceded defeat on election day. He has been a partner in the war on terror. He believes that, above all else, Islamist extremists must be defeated. He is willing to defer to the new parliamentary majority and possibly to step down or slip into a ceremonial and advisory role.
Mr. Zardari succeeded his wife, Benazir Bhutto, as head of the Pakistan People's Party after she was killed in a terrorist attack in December. He has publicly pledged to fight the war on terror and echoes his late wife's calls for a strong democracy, a parliament that represents the people, and improved education and economic conditions.
Mr. Sharif often seems hostile to America. In the 1990s, he supported Shariah law and tended to interfere with the judiciary. When asked who might replace Mr. Musharraf as president, Mr. Sharif once responded with the name of A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb and the chief proliferator of nuclear technology. But even Mr. Sharif now champions the rule of law and an independent judiciary, and defends Pakistan's constitution.
Regardless of who becomes the next prime minister, the issue of how he comes to power is now vitally important. Mr. Musharraf must be allowed enough room to peacefully transition to a strong democracy, and to figure out how to exit the stage with the grace of a leader who recognizes the will of the people.
There is talk of hastening him out the door with impeachment proceedings. The U.S. should caution Pakistani leaders to consider the consequences carefully. Impeachment could destabilize Pakistan and postpone work that must be done to establish an independent judiciary, crack down on terrorists, and jump-start development.
The new coalition has suggested that it might de-emphasize military operations against terrorists along the western frontier provinces where al Qaeda made its stronghold after the fall of Afghanistan. The leaders have suggested dialogue, economic development, and political enfranchisement as the key tools for pacifying Pakistan's frontier. These comments concern many of us who take this as a sign that Pakistani efforts against the terrorists might further flag. But the emphasis on providing services to the population -- from security to running water -- in order to win their participation in the political life of the state is fundamental to starving extremists of popular support. The Islamist parties' dismal showing in the recent election suggests that this strategy may already be working.
As long as Pakistan's leaders support democracy and practice it, we will be their enthusiastic partner. Our security depends on helping them improve internal security and the rule of law, which are prerequisites of popular legitimacy for any government and essential for foreign investment. As support for a secular and democratic government grows, our ongoing efforts to help turn the Pakistani army into an effective counter-terrorism force will start paying enormous dividends. If that happens, Pakistan will emerge as a more effective and reliable partner in the war against terrorism and Islamic extremism.
Ms. Hutchison, a Republican U.S. senator from Texas, recently returned from a trip to Pakistan.

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