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After the Honeymoon, Then What?

November 07, 2001|MICHAEL KREPON | Michael Krepon is the founding president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington think tank

After 12 rocky years, U.S.-Pakistan relations are again on the upswing. The U.S. needs Pakistan's help to combat Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network and their Taliban hosts in Afghanistan. Pakistan needs economic help, debt relief and the chance to be on the right side of a global coalition against terrorism.

Is this simply a marriage of convenience, with Washington and Islamabad downplaying past grievances about each other's fidelity? Can this relationship last?

Much is riding on the abilities of the Bush administration and the government of President Pervez Musharraf to make a long-term success of their awkward new partnership. This won't be easy.

Whether Pakistan should have nuclear weapons is no longer an issue. Pakistan has worked hard and spent considerable resources to obtain a nuclear capability; it's not going to give it up. Washington's priority must be to help Pakistan maintain nuclear safety and security. Speculation about the need for the U.S. to prepare to capture Pakistan's nuclear assets in the event of a government collapse undermines this common agenda. Musharraf cited the protection of these assets as a primary reason to line up with the U.S. Now, if he accepts U.S. help on nuclear safeguards, his opponents will miscast this as a malevolent plot by Washington.

But the issue with far greater potential to cause another rift is Kashmir. For the past decade, Islamabad's Kashmir policy has relied heavily on jihad groups that operate from havens in Pakistan and carry out acts of violence against Indian security forces and noncombatants in Kashmir. While they have cut ties to the Taliban, Pakistan's army and intelligence service continue to support a jihad in Kashmir. Indeed, Musharraf's public justification for helping Washington in the terrorism war rested largely on the need to protect Pakistan's interest in Kashmir.

Indian security forces also bear blame for the suffering of noncombatants in Kashmir. India must be held responsible for its human rights abuses against Kashmiris, which New Delhi claims will stop once militancy has subsided. Yet Islamabad's exposure is greater because it can't justify support for jihad on national defense grounds. The "Talibanization" of Pakistan, marked by sectarian violence and a weak economy and educational system, cannot be reversed unless Pakistan's methods regarding Kashmir change. There is little distinction--even within Pakistan's borders--between terrorists operating out of Afghanistan and jihadis who enjoy Pakistan's support.

Musharraf and most senior military leaders strongly support activist policies toward Kashmir, but they also are keenly aware of domestic and diplomatic needs. Musharraf has sidelined army leaders closely associated with failed policies in Afghanistan, and there is growing awareness that the jihadi operations in Kashmir are hurting Pakistan. A long-term commitment by the U.S. toward Pakistan will require significant resources and the reestablishment of solid working ties with the Pakistani army. For its part, Pakistan must demonstrate a sustained commitment to reform failing institutions of governance and public services.

The sad history of U.S.-Pakistan relations during the 1990s--when Pakistan was isolated after acquiring nuclear weapons and then joined forces with the Taliban--must not be repeated. In a CNN interview last month, Musharraf voiced the fear of many in Pakistan: "After the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan, we were left in the lurch .... Are we going to be abandoned again?" The answer depends on a sustained U.S. commitment and on Pakistan's stance toward the militancy breeding within its borders.

A broadening and deepening of U.S.-Pakistan ties require partnership in the war against terrorism. Unlike our previous divergence over the nuclear issue, this common front is in both our nations' interest.

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