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Poverty of American Policy in Pakistan

From being someone the us had no time for, Benazir Bhutto turned during the course of 2007 into a crucial player in Pakistan for American policy. Yet, like everything else of us foreign policy, this too was to have disastrous consequences for the people of Pakistan. The us claims a right to be a player in the domestic political system; the people of Pakistan are paying a price for that.

LETTER FROM AMERICA

Poverty of American Policy in Pakistan

Zia Mian

The New York Times reported in late 2007, “The administration concluded over the summer that a power-sharing deal with Ms Bhutto might be the only way that General Musharraf could keep from being toppled”. Benazir would provide the democratic legitimacy that Musharraf lacked,

From being someone the US had no time for, Benazir Bhutto turned during the course of 2007 into a crucial player in Pakistan for American policy. Yet, like everything else of US foreign policy, this too was to have disastrous consequences for the people of Pakistan. The US claims a right to be a player in the domestic political system; the people of Pakistan are paying a price for that.

Zia Mian (zia@princeton.edu) is a physicist with the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs.

T
he murder of Benazir Bhutto is a tragedy for Pakistan in many ways. It also offers perhaps the clearest example so far that everything the Bush administration touches in Pakistan turns into dust.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States needed and demanded Pakistan’s help. General Musharraf, who had seized power in a coup in 1999, went from being a military dictator to being a man president Bush described as a “leader of great courage and vision”, “a courageous leader and friend of the United States”. The US provided over $10 billion of aid (there may be as much again in the form of covert aid).

But Musharraf could not and did not deliver. Al Qaida and the Taliban fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and made common cause with Pakistani radical Islamist groups, cultivated for years by the Pakistan’s army for its proxy war in Kashmir. The Musharraf regime preferred to appease Islamist political parties and militants rather than confront them. Under pressure, the army would sporadically resort to a show of force against the militants. Even in the army, it came to be seen by many as an American war and there was a reluctance to fight it.

Musharraf became deeply unpopular. A June-July 2007 poll by the International Republican Institute found that almost 60 per cent of Pakistani voters felt the country was “headed in the wrong direction” and 58 per cent said that the Musharraf government did not deserve re-election. Even more were opposed to Musharraf continuing as president – 63 per cent thought Musharraf should resign. The polls also showed that Benazir Bhutto was more popular than Pervez Musharraf.

and it was hoped, build public support for the “war on terror” in Pakistan. The Times explained how “Two years ago, Ms Bhutto could not even get the State Department’s top official for South Asia to show up at a dinner party in her honour… But in recent months that began to change. The American courtship of Ms Bhutto included a private dinner and a jet ride with Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to the United Nations, and, over the last month, several telephone calls to Ms Bhutto from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.”

Plan Gone Awry

The whole plan hinged on general Musharraf becoming president Musharraf. But this was challenged in Pakistan’s Supreme Court. The court was expected to rule that the general could not be or become president. Musharraf staged his second coup, declared martial law, suspended the constitution, and dismissed the Supreme Court. Washington was alerted in advance. Admiral William Fallon, the head of US central command which controls US forces in west Asia and includes Pakistan in its area of operations, met Musharraf in Islamabad the day before the coup.

Musharraf’s second coup triggered protests across the country, led by lawyers’ groups, human rights and other civil society organisations, and students. Many of these middle class, educated, urban professionals saw the US as backing Musharraf and his assault on the rule of law in Pakistan. Now, many supporters of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party hold the Musharraf government, and by association, the US, responsible for her death.

Wendy Chamberlin, a former US ambassador to Pakistan, recently said that “We are a player in the Pakistani political system”. Pakistan is now paying the price.

january 5, 2008 Economic & Political Weekly

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