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Pakistan's Ambassasador to the US: "America Is Better Off Without Musharraf"

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  • Tarek Fatah
    August 21, 2008     America Is Better Off Without Musharraf By Husain Haqqani The Wall Street Journal
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 21, 2008
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      August 21, 2008

      America Is Better Off Without Musharraf

      By Husain Haqqani
      The Wall Street Journal

      Pervez Musharraf's resignation as president of Pakistan allows the country to move toward full democracy. Some in Washington view this as a threat -- the replacement of a reputedly stalwart ally in the war against terrorism with a democratic government responsive to the unpredictability of public opinion.


      But with Mr. Musharraf gone, the United States need not take blame for his actions, particularly those unrelated to international cooperation in fighting terrorists. Mr. Musharraf's exit is not a loss. It is an opportunity to jump-start a much more durable and stable relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan as nations sharing democratic values.

      In national elections on Feb. 18, the people of Pakistan spoke with an uncharacteristically unified voice, voting overwhelmingly for moderate, democratic political parties and rejecting not only Mr. Musharraf's political party, but those aligned with extremism and fanaticism. Less than 5% of the vote went to Islamist parties sympathetic to the Taliban.


      The democratic coalition led by the party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), was allowed to form a government, but Mr. Musharraf refused to step down as president or relinquish the lion's share of power within the government. His resignation this week under threat of impeachment has been celebrated by Pakistanis from all corners of the country.


      Pakistan's greatest challenge now is to change its pattern of alternating between military strongmen and elected civilian governments that are ousted before their term is complete.


      The Pakistani military appears ready to join civilians in changing that pattern. Civilian elites who in the past have supported suspension of the constitution on grounds of alleged incompetence and corruption of elected officials may also have learned their lesson.

      There is no shortcut to building democracy. Reforms pushed through governments installed by coups d'état have repeatedly failed to bring stability, and Mr. Musharraf's much-trumpeted economic achievements are in tatters at the end of his nine-year rule.


      In the final analysis, Pakistan will only be as strong as its political system. Pakistan's democratic parties, most notably the current coalition partners PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (N), must be given a chance to lay the foundations of lasting constitutional governance. Like all transitions, the transition from one-man rule to a pluralist system will be tough. But Pakistanis have proven their commitment to the democratic ideal after four failed military dictatorships in 60 years.


      The U.S.'s primary concern in Pakistan remains the ongoing war against al Qaeda and the Taliban, mainly in the country's northwest region bordering Afghanistan. With Mr. Musharraf gone, the war against terror will in fact be pursued with much more vigor and much less political manipulation.


      Anti-Americanism among Pakistan's people may ease, now that Washington is not seen as backing an unpopular strongman. That should make it easier for the elected government to fight terrorism without being accused of doing America's bidding in return for economic and military assistance.


      The assumption that dealing with a single, authoritarian leader is the best way to do business with a foreign government is erroneous. In a nation of 160 million, the U.S. should not count on only one man as its ally. Those who are American allies by conviction and a shared belief in democracy, tolerance and free markets are bound to be better allies than an ally of convenience seeking only aid and political support.


      The elected government of Pakistan can and will turn its attention to the immediate and critical problems of our nation -- inflation, a looming energy crisis, food shortages, an educational system that doesn't work, and a civil society that has been dismantled by dictatorship. And of course, above all, the people and government of Pakistan must contain and destroy the extremist insurgency which threatens the very soul of the nation.

      With the mandate of the people behind it, the new Pakistani government can muster popular support to restore the writ of law to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and to marginalize extremists all over the country.


      As Joe Biden has argued, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship should no longer be "transactional," i.e., based largely on the "exchange of aid for services." An economically viable Pakistan is a stable Pakistan, and a stable Pakistan would be better positioned to end fanaticism in our region. Pakistanis have been encouraged by the recent, unanimous passage in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of legislation introduced this month by Sens. Biden and Richard Lugar that would help build a U.S.-Pakistan relationship based not only on shared battle plans but shared values and shared economic and political interests.


      Another critical piece of legislation that works toward that end is the Afghanistan and Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones Act of 2008. Introduced by Chris Van Hollen in the House and Maria Cantwell in the Senate, and supported by the Bush administration, it would encourage economic investment and local factories and businesses in Taliban-infested areas through favored trade relationships with the U.S. The Biden-Lugar legislation and the ROZs are important signals to the people of Pakistan that the U.S. is indeed a genuine partner, not just a military ally.


      Pakistan has weathered a very difficult period in our national history -- a near-decade-long dictatorship, the spread of terrorism, an economic crisis and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, our icon of democracy. But we have made it through. The Musharraf resignation is not anyone's loss; it could help turn Pakistan around and that would be the world's gain.


      Mr. Haqqani is Pakistan's ambassador to the United States.

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