We Need a Pakistan Policy

The international community is deeply concerned about the stability of Pakistan this week after General Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency on Saturday, suspending the country's constitution and cracking down on political opposition by arresting thousands of dissenters, journalists, and activists. The pictures and video coming out of the country paint a distressing portrait of a country in crisis.

I've been saying for some time that Pakistan is probably the most dangerous and complex country we deal with. If I were president today, I would be on the phone with Musharraf myself and make clear to him the risk to Pakistani-US relations if he does not restore the constitution, permit free and fair elections and take off his uniform as promised.

Unfortunately, I have heard nothing in my briefings from current administration officials to suggest that George Bush has any notion as to our next step in addressing this crisis. We have been told that this state of martial law will last only a few days, but let's not kid ourselves.

Going forward, we need to keep three things in mind:

First, we have a huge stake in making sure Pakistan's moderate majority has a voice and an outlet with elections. If they don't, they may make common cause with the fundamentalists, just like the Shah's opponents did in Iran. But if the fundamentalists wind up in power, it will be much worse than Iran, because Pakistan already has nuclear weapons and the missile delivery systems to put our allies and security interests in the region in harm's way.

Second, we should move from a Musharraf policy to a Pakistan policy. We need to build a new relationship with the Pakistani people, with more non-military aid, sustained over a long period of time, so that the moderate majority has a chance to succeed. I'm going to be speaking in detail to this on Thursday in New Hampshire at Saint Anselm College.

Third, connect the dots: Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan are all linked. Far from operating in a vacuum, what we do in one place profoundly affects the others. For example, because we shifted our resources away from Afghanistan to Iraq, Musharraf concluded the Taliban would rebound and he would be better off cutting a deal with them. Now, we're so tied down in Iraq we can't take the pressure off him in Afghanistan. And all this talk of war with Iran only makes it harder for moderates in Pakistan and Afghanistan to cooperate with us.

We are in a very tough spot, and our policy options have been limited by this administration's refusal to accept the complexity of our situation in the Middle East. While the burden is on Musharraf today to restore Pakistan's constitution, we must also act and bring this war in Iraq to a responsible conclusion. It is the only way to restore our place in the world and regain our ability to respond to the many challenges we face as a nation here at home and abroad.