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Last Updated:6/23/03

Bush needs to attach strings to Pakistan aid
USA Today

By Selig S. Harrison

Cooperation against al-Qaeda will continue, but will remain selective ... to suit the political convenience of whatever Pakistani military ruler is in power.
When Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan agreed to line up with the United States after Sept. 11, 2001, many Pakistanis who sympathized with al-Qaeda and the Taliban were outraged. Don't worry, Musharraf reassured them days later in a revealing TV address in the Urdu language not intended for American ears.

Sprinkling in citations from the Koran, Musharraf on Sept. 19, 2001 drew a lengthy analogy between the situation then facing Pakistan and the opportunist alliance the Prophet Mohammed made with the Jewish tribes of Medina to defeat his enemies. After six years of fighting against nonbelievers in Mecca who challenged his claim to be the Prophet, Mohammed made a deal with them and ditched the Jews. Mecca became the headquarters of the new religion.

Although veiled, Musharraf's message, as widely interpreted in the Urdu media, was unmistakable: The alliance with the Americans is only temporary. He directed special words of reassurance to Taliban sympathizers, reminding them, "I have done everything for Afghanistan and the Taliban when the whole world was against them. We are trying our best to come out of this critical situation without any damage to them."

President Bush should remember that speech when he plays host to Musharraf at Camp David today. It shows how risky it would be for the United States to put all of its chips in South Asia on Musharraf, and why tough talk is needed to protect key U.S. security interests in the region.

In the 21 months since 9/11, the United States has poured $600 million in cash, $350 million in military aid and $3.6 billion in U.S. and International Monetary Fund credits into Pakistan, not to mention postponing payments of $12.5 billion in Pakistani debt to a U.S.-led consortium of countries giving aid to Islamabad. A new long-term aid package is expected at Camp David, including another $1 billion in debt relief.

Surprisingly, the United States has provided this largesse without making it conditional on Pakistani concessions essential to U.S. interests. The United States has not asked for nuclear inspection arrangements to prevent further nuclear transfers like the one to North Korea that began in 1998, which U.S. intelligence confirmed last October, touching off the present nuclear crisis with Pyongyang. Equally important, the administration is no longer pushing Musharraf to stop supporting an Islamic extremist insurgency in Kashmir that could provoke a full-scale war between India and Pakistan.

What has the United States received in return for its aid? The use of Pakistani airfields during U.S. military operations in Afghanistan was valuable. But it was not critical to U.S. success, since most U.S. bombers operated from aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea and from bases in Oman.

When al-Qaeda and Taliban forces fled across the border to Pakistan, Musharraf went through the motions of helping find them. But administration officials suspect he knows more about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda and Taliban activists hiding out in Pakistan. Pakistani police, for example, have helped capture several al-Qaeda leaders only after the FBI and CIA have confronted them with communications intercepts pinpointing their hideouts.

This was the case when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the third-ranking al-Qaeda leader, was arrested in March after an FBI tip. Significantly, Mohammed was arrested in the home of a leader of the Islamic extremist Jamaat-i-Islami party, which has close allies in Musharraf's inner circle.

Musharraf himself is not an Islamic extremist. But he is beholden to entrenched al-Qaeda and Taliban supporters in the armed forces, the intelligence services and the police. He helped the Jamaat-e-Islami and five allied Islamic groups to win state elections last October in key border provinces adjacent to Afghanistan. As a result, al-Qaeda and Taliban activity in the border provinces is now openly supported by local officials, aided covertly by sympathizers in the intelligence agencies.

When a suicide bomber killed four German peacekeepers in Kabul on June 7, Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmed Jalali blamed Pakistan. "The terrorists cannot stay for long inside our country, so they take refuge in the border areas of Pakistan."

To stay in power, Musharraf is likely to do whatever is necessary to appease the Islamic radicals, who are thriving in the increasingly anti-U.S. climate fueled by the American-led invasion of Iraq.

What this means for the United States is that Pakistani cooperation against the Taliban is likely to dwindle. Cooperation against al-Qaeda will continue, but will remain selective and limited to suit the political convenience of whatever Pakistani military ruler is in power.

Helping Islamabad economically is desirable to keep cooperation against al-Qaeda going, but only if it is conditional. The Bush administration is afraid that pressuring Musharraf for nuclear inspections and a termination of aid to Islamic insurgents in Kashmir will undermine the war on terrorism. But U.S. security interests in South Asia go beyond al-Qaeda, and the White House has never made full use of its economic leverage in dealing with Pakistan.

There is a continuing danger of new Pakistan nuclear transfers not only to North Korea but also to other would-be nuclear powers such as Saudi Arabia, and of terrorists from Pakistan possibly getting their hands on nuclear stockpiles. Similarly, unless Pakistan stops stoking the Kashmir insurgency, the new U.S.-backed Indo-Pakistan peace process will collapse.

To get Pakistan to accept conditional aid, the United States could offer compelling new economic incentives, including access to the U.S. textile market, which Pakistan has been seeking in vain since 9/11. If Musharraf balks, Bush could make clear that he is prepared to re-impose the sanctions lifted after 9/11 and, if necessary, suspend all U.S. economic aid.

Firm carrot-and-stick diplomacy will work because Musharraf and his generals are dependent on U.S. aid for the survival of an increasingly unpopular military regime. It's time for Washington to drive a new bargain with Pakistan in which the tail no longer wags the dog.

Selig S. Harrison, who has covered South Asia since 1951, is the author of five books. He is director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy.

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