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Pakistan Still Has a Finger in the Wind

April 10, 2002|MERVYN M. DYMALLY

As the U.S. war on terrorism inches us into closer alliances with regimes we might otherwise hold at arm's length, we can't fall into the Cold War trap of allowing national interests to impugn our national character.

Before Sept. 11, Pakistan was on its way to joining Afghanistan in becoming a failed state. The country's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was an ardent supporter of the Taliban regime, while the military-intelligence complex he controlled was responsible for weapons proliferation throughout the Middle East and Asia, along with the export of extremists across the Muslim world. U.S. sanctions and $11 billion in external debt had the country on the verge of economic collapse.

Following the attacks, U.S. officials determined that support and assistance of neighboring states would be essential to wage an effective campaign in Afghanistan. Thus an alliance of convenience was born, and the floodgates of financial assistance were opened. But as the war drags on, evidence now suggests that the commitments that serve as the basis for this alliance--preventing Al Qaeda and Taliban forces from crossing the border, granting U.S. aircraft landing rights, renouncing extremism--are no longer being met.

The foremost cause for concern has been Pakistan's unwillingness to effectively patrol its border with Afghanistan. During the first three months of the U.S. bombing campaign, the United Nations estimated that 1,000 to 2,000 Afghans were crossing the border each day. Pakistani officials say they don't have the resources to stop them, yet they have refused to allow U.S. troops to enter Pakistan while in pursuit of retreating Taliban soldiers. "I don't think that doing this is in the coalition's interest or in Pakistan's interest," Musharraf said.

The option of using U.S. air power to help control Pakistan's border also has been stymied under terms of a classified lease agreement. Although the forward deployment of nearly 2,000 troops on three Pakistani air bases has been held up as a symbol of Pakistani cooperation, it is not the "blanket landing rights" to which Pakistan committed. Despite paying for access to these bases, the U.S. Army remains limited to stationing only helicopters in Pakistan, thereby requiring the Air Force to use less-equipped bases in Kyrgyzstan and beyond.

The British encountered similar difficulties last month when the HMS Ocean sought to unload an expeditionary force destined for Afghanistan, only to be denied docking privileges in Karachi. The troops are being flown to the U.S.-controlled Bagram air base in Afghanistan. This despite Pakistan's pledge of full docking privileges.

Most disturbing has been Musharraf's unwillingness to definitively break his country's ties to extremism. Publicly, he has committed himself to the war effort in a series of speeches and visits designed for an international audience. But at home, Musharraf consistently calls for an early withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region, promulgates specious reports of Osama bin Laden's death, denies the presence of Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan, releases militants from jail and calls for the inclusion of former Taliban officials in the new Afghan government. Are these the actions of an ally?

Recognizing that he is torn between meeting his international commitments and placating powerful Islamic interests at home, we have condoned Musharraf's backsliding thus far. But Pakistan's actions stand out as inimical to U.S. objectives. In a campaign where, as President Bush has declared, "you are either with us or with the terrorists," Pakistan must recommit itself to the principles of the war on terrorism or be prepared to accept the consequences.

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Former U.S. Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton), an adjunct professor on international relations at Compton College, served on the House International Relations Committee from 1982 to 1994.

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