By Teresita Schaffer
The 'elected' Government in Islamabad is bothered about jihadi violence in Pakistan. The US Administration would like to see jihad across the Durand Line cease. There is a gulf that separates the view from Islamabad and Washington. Can it be bridged?
General Pervez Musharraf's resignation after nearly nine years at Pakistan's helm should take the brakes off the transition to an elected Government. This is good news for a country whose political institutions have nearly suffocated under years of military-dominated Governments. It is not the end of Pakistan's political crisis, but it gives the United States an opportunity to recalibrate US-Pakistan relations without the complication of the personal connection with Gen Musharraf.
The US Administration was slow to realise that Gen Musharraf was no longer capable of being the face of US-Pakistan relations. It continued to see him as a 'factor for stability' even after he had been decisively rejected in the elections and had lost control of the machinery of Pakistan's Government. But in the weeks prior to his exit, the Bush Administration made clear its intention to let Gen Musharraf's future play out according to Pakistan's political dynamics. So, more importantly, did the Pakistani Army.
Now Pakistan needs to come to grips with its urgent problems, and the US needs to help it do so. This will require determination and sophistication in dealing with an elected Government and a population that blames the US for many of its problems. It will also require some attention to the long-term reforms that the country has needed for decades.
The most pressing issue for the US is Pakistan's impact on the insurgency in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Government gives top priority to closing down suicide bombings and the insurgency perpetrated by the branch of the Taliban movement inside Pakistan. This is the only issue that the elected Government tried to tackle before Gen Musharraf's departure. The US is more concerned about control of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The border and Pakistan's insurgency are two sides of the same coin, and both have to be addressed. There is no way Afghanistan can be rescued without stabilising Pakistan. Ending the internal insurgency deserves full focus from Pakistan and urgent support from the US. Whatever the US can do through training, intelligence, or other means will also support stability in Afghanistan.
At the same time, and in a less public manner, the US needs to enlist Pakistan's help in addressing the border issue. Pakistan can help with both parts of this endeavour through such practical steps as closing down broadcasters that incite violence and moving against those few madarsas that are really paramilitary training sites. This enterprise cries out for a joint strategy -- involving political, economic, and military tools -- in which the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan can participate.
Pakistan also faces an economic crisis. Between May 2007 and May 2008, food prices rose 28 per cent and wholesale fuel prices 46 per cent. The cost of food and fuel imports is up about 50 per cent from last year. The balance of payments and the Budget are both feeling the heat. This could spell sudden death for the Government.
A third problem is on the horizon. India-Pakistan relations were a success story in the past four years. When it first took office, the elected Government wisely decided to continue Gen Musharraf's promising approaches to this relationship. There was little chance of a breakthrough, but relations were relatively stable. Opponents of peace with India, including Pakistan's intelligence services, may seek to fish in troubled waters. Ominously, major firing incidents are threatening the India-Pakistan ceasefire.
These are heavy problems, and the Pakistan Government is badly divided. Its two major political leaders, Mr Asif Ali Zardari and Mr Nawaz Sharif, do not actually hold office but lead the political parties that did well in the last election. Gen Musharraf's departure removes one source of troublemaking between them but also eliminates the common enemy that pushed them together. Pakistanis are impatient to see Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif move beyond politicking and produce results.
The other potential division in the Government is between civilians and the military. The Government is acutely conscious that it needs to have an understanding with the Army on major issues of national security. But the potential problem with the Army runs deeper. The kind of dysfunction we see now, if continued, could provoke a return to the disastrous days of military intervention.
Expect turbulence ahead. Pakistan's leaders are wary of each other and of the US, and both have a track record that gives us pause. The urgency of getting started on Pakistan's major problems must not blind the US to the longer-term reforms critical to success on the insurgency, the economy, and relations with India.
-- The writer directs the South Asia Programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. She has served as a diplomat in South Asia.
Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi