Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Pakistan's Choice

Pakistan's Choice

Publication: The Washington Post
Date: November 27, 2001

Two Months ago, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf made the right choice in the war on terrorism. In a televised address, he pledged his "full support" for the United States, including use of Pakistan's airspace, intelligence and airfields. Though he wavered when he called for an ill-advised interruption to America's bombing campaign during Ramadan, Mr. Musharraf has broadly stuck to his position, facing down anti-American demonstrations and jailing prominent clerics who support the Taliban. Yesterday the Musharraf government followed up by launching a hunt inside Afghanistan for al Qaeda leaders, but as the Afghan campaign enters its dangerous endgame, there is a risk that Pakistan will falter. Mr. Musharraf needs to explain to his country that support for the war against terrorism is not just a favor to the United States but also is in Pakistan's own interests. And the Bush administration must continue to bolster Mr. Musharraf's position with aid and market access.

In the past few days, Pakistan has differed publicly with the United States on two issues. Mr. Musharraf's government has sought the repatriation of pro-Taliban Pakistani fighters in Afghanistan; the United States is in no hurry to see this happen, perhaps because it doubts that Pakistan will make good on its promises of prosecuting the fighters in its courts. Second, the Musharraf government has expressed doubts about the efforts to broker a post-Taliban regime that open in Bonn today. In Pakistan's view, the conference involves insufficient representation of Afghanistan's southern Pashtun people, who are traditionally Pakistan's clients.

Up to a point, Pakistan's arguments are reasonable: All governments seek jurisdiction over their own citizens, and a political settlement in Afghanistan will be impossible without Pashtun participation. But Pakistan's political elites do not squarely acknowledge that their countrymen in Afghanistan are guilty of siding with fundamentalist terrorists, and that prosecuting them in domestic courts for violation of border regulations (as the Pakistani government is suggesting) might not be enough to prevent them from wreaking further destruction. Equally, Pakistan's leaders still seem to want to control the balance of power in Afghanistan. But Pashtun dominance of a future Afghan government seems as unlikely to yield stability as Pashtun exclusion. Three in five Afghans are non-Pashtun, and other regional powers -- Iran, Russia, India -- will not accept a Pashtun monopoly.

Pakistan's leaders have long nurtured enmity with India and have tolerated fundamentalist terrorists in Indian-ruled Kashmir. Because of this enmity with India, Pakistan has feared encirclement by hostile countries, and so has sought to subjugate or destabilize Afghanistan. Both halves of this policy have fed an underworld of fundamentalist violence within Pakistan. Mr. Musharraf's decision to side with the United States in the war against terrorism provides an opportunity to break with this destructive pattern. But that will mean clamping down on Pakistan's domestic terrorists, despite their popular following. And it will mean putting stability in Afghanistan ahead of ambitions to control the country.

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