Washington, Feb.16 : A South Asian affairs expert has said that the United States of America must remain closely engaged with Pakistan's politicians and military leadership during this time of political transition.
Lisa Curtis, a Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Sub-committee on the Middle East and South Asia, that the relationship between Washington and Islamabad is crossing over troubled waters, and anti-Americanism is reaching the boiling point.
She said that a strong U.S. public stance supporting the process of democracy without focusing on any one particular leader or party would help calm the situation, and added that despite the frustration over the lack of Pakistan's success in uprooting terrorist safe havens in the border areas, the U.S. should refrain from cutting off military assistance and develop a forward-looking strategic approach to improving U.S.-Pakistan counterterrorism cooperation.
Describing the events in pakistan over the last 10 months as dramatic, she said it is natural for anyone to make dommsday predictions about Pakistan's future as a nation-state.
"Conventional wisdom holds that in this part of the world (South Asia), stability and democracy are mutually exclusive. But in the case of Pakistan, it is increasingly clear that holding fair and transparent elections provides the best chance for stabilizing the country. Ultimately, a popularly elected civilian government working hand-in-hand with a strong military focused on its primary mission of battling extremists will provide stability and security for the Pakistani people," she said.
A major complicating factor for the election process is the continuing campaign of suicide bombings, including last week's attack in front of the Lahore High Court that killed dozens of police officers. A flawed election viewed as rigged by Musharraf would lead to further civil unrest that could bring Pakistan to a dangerous tipping point," she added.
She described the situation in Pakistan as fluid and delicate, and in this cirumstance, the U.S. should refrain from making abrupt policy changes, and allow Pakistan to weather the current tumult within its boundaries.
She, however, said that Washington should increasingly view Musharraf as a transitional figure whose influence is likely to decline in the months ahead. Washington is in the process of shifting from dealing mainly with Musharraf to dealing with a more broad-based government run by civilians, and for this to become a reality, Washington needed to exercise patience, she added.
On terrorism and extremism, Curtis said confronting both "will be a long-term and multi-pronged effort".
The U.S. military should stand ready to assist the Pakistanis with any equipment or training necessary to fight these menacing elements who were seeking to destroy the state of Pakistan, she said.
Washington should also continueto provide robust economic and military assistance programs to Pakistan, and the majority of this assistance should go toward public education, which now stands at about 60 million dollars annually.
She also said that the Bush Administration's commitment to provide 750 million dollars over five years to develop Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is a step in the right direction.
U.S. assistance should encourage political reform that incorporates the institutions of the tribal lands fully into the Pakistani system, she added.
Curtis said there is no immediate threat to the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons during the current political transition, but urged Washington to be diligent in pursuing policies that promoted the safety and security of Islamabad's nuclear assets.
She recommended Washington to take up the following six issues with Islamabad
(1) Pressure Musharraf for free polls
(2) Develop a strategic approach to defeating the Taliban
(3) Use tough diplomacy to bring Islamabad on board.
(4) Build up Pakistan's capability to confront terrorists
(5) Focus on developing the tribal areas and
(6) Maintain robust assistance programs