Fighting terror without Pakistan

Today, Center for American Progress senior fellow Brian Katulis and Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Lisa Curtis debate the impact of breaking the U.S.-Pakistan alliance. Previously, they debated U.S. foreign aid to the country, prospects for a legitimate election under Pervez Musharraf, and Benazir Bhutto's legacy. Tomorrow, they'll discuss Pakistani sovereignty and capturing Osama bin Laden.

A strategic and moral imperativeBy Lisa Curtis
The U.S. doesn't really have the option of abandoning Pakistan. We rely on Pakistani air, land and sea space to supply critical fuel, vehicles and aircraft to support our 26,000 (soon to be 29,500) troops fighting in Afghanistan. The U.S. would find it extremely difficult to develop alternative supply lines for the war effort in Afghanistan.

We also depend on officials there to help control the flow of militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Although cross-border infiltration is still a problem, the Pakistanis have been able to tighten controls over the last year. Without their cooperation, the international effort to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan would be much more complicated.

Nor would the U.S. want to abandon Pakistan. Pakistan has been an ally in fighting terrorism, losing close to a thousand of its own soldiers in battles with extremists in tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. Much of the instability wracking Pakistan stems from the war in Afghanistan and Pakistani efforts to confront the terrorist threat within its own borders. Pakistan is in the eye of the storm with regard to the battle against extremism. It would be folly for the U.S. to turn its back on the country during this crisis period.

The U.S. needs moderate, progressive Pakistanis to prevail over extremists seeking to cause chaos, overthrow the regime and establish a theocratic government in its place. Cutting ties to Pakistan because of a lack of democracy could backfire by emboldening extremists to fight harder and forcing secular-minded civilian politicians into retreat.

In fact, it's in U.S. national security interests to cultivate strong ties to Pakistan over the long term so that Washington can edge the country toward a path of moderation, development and democracy. Most U.S. policymakers now acknowledge that it was a mistake to cut off aid to Pakistan in the early 1990s; we sacrificed important leverage with the Pakistani military and the good will of the Pakistani people. We must not repeat that mistake, despite some of the difficulties in the relationship.

That said, we need to increase the pressure to promote a return to civilian-led democracy in Pakistan, especially in the run-up to next month's election. A flawed election viewed as rigged by Pervez Musharraf would lead to further instability. The U.S. needs to be clear on the specific criteria by which it will judge the fairness of the election and signal its readiness to deal with a more broad-based, civilian-led government.

There has been some discussion about forming a unity government, but such a step should be pursued only with full agreement of the mainstream political parties and with the understanding that it would help restore democratic rule. Ultimately, the Pakistanis themselves have to resolve their domestic political problems, but the U.S. has a moral and strategic obligation to stand up for the principles of democracy and freedom, especially when the Pakistani people so clearly and persistently yearn to move in this direction.

Lisa Curtis is a senior research fellow in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation(

The prosperity agendaBy Brian Katulis
Lisa, I think we're in broad agreement over where U.S. policy on Pakistan needs to be, even if we have some important disagreements on how to get there. We both think that abandoning the alliance with Pakistan would adversely affect our fight against Al Qaeda — but we disagree about how the United States can best exercise its leverage to enhance stability and prosperity in Pakistan.

The main problem with the path you've outlined is that it is not very different from the one that got us where we are now — and as we know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Right now in Pakistan, we have the worst of both worlds — a government headed by an undemocratic, authoritarian leader and an escalating terrorism problem in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.

Ironically, President Bush doesn't seem to have confidence in his own central national security proposition — that freedom and democracy would defeat terrorism. Pakistan, the country that has likely served as haven for top Al Qaeda leaders for the past six years, is one on a long list of exceptions in President Bush's freedom agenda. If Bush's so-called freedom agenda actually meant anything, one might think it would be applied in the places where it counts.

Lisa, you and I agree that rushing headlong into an election while political prisoners remain behind bars just as terrorist suspects like Rashid Rauf slip away, while press freedoms are restricted and while the judiciary continues to lack independence, is the wrong way to go. Yet the White House seems intent on standing behind its man, Musharraf.

For far too long, key institutions in Musharraf's government have been playing something of a double game — going after militants just enough to appease the United States but focusing strategic priorities elsewhere. One prime example is the case of Maulana Masood Azhar, who founded the Army of Muhammad with support from the Pakistani intelligence services. Though Azhar was jailed after militants attacked India's parliament in December 2001, he was freed not long after in what has been a revolving-door policy on far too many terrorist suspects.

The sad truth is that too much of U.S. assistance to Pakistan has been squandered — focused on rewarding the Pakistani military with the conventional weapons it wants to fight India. This aid has not bought us much influence with Musharraf; despite our urgings, he went ahead and declared emergency rule in November and has run roughshod over political rights and civil liberties.

While selling F-16s may buy us some goodwill in some parts of the Pakistani military, it has not done the same with the Pakistani people. According to a recent poll of the Pakistani public by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, more Pakistanis believe the American military presence in Afghanistan is a greater threat to their country than longtime rival India. While important, a strong relationship with the Pakistani military does not equate to a strong relationship with the Pakistani people.

What the United States needs to do is to move beyond President Bush's hollow freedom agenda and make a shift to a prosperity agenda — one that focuses on advancing our interests by making the Pakistani people feel more secure and prosperous.

This shift requires a fundamental rethink to our approach, and not just more of the same. The first step is one you and I already agreed on — a set of serious measures to make Pakistan's next elections meaningful and legitimate in the eyes of its people. The second step is refocusing military aid to make it more accountable and more suited fighting terrorist networks. Finally, the United States needs to do more to ensure that our assistance is making life better for ordinary Pakistanis who are experiencing skyrocketing prices in bread, fuel and other life essentials.

The United States needs to start from the bottom up in Pakistan with a new prosperity agenda - rebuilding its relationship with the Pakistani people, changing the nature of its military assistance and truly promoting democracy (not just saying the words). More of the same will give us the same results - a worsening situation for the vast majority of Pakistanis who have already suffered too much from their own leaders and the misguided policies of outside powers.

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, is the coauthor of the forthcoming book, "The Prosperity Agenda."

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