Pakistan in the Nevada Democratic Presidential Debate

There was an exchange about Pakistan in tonight’s Democratic presidential debate in Nevada. Here’s a summary:

Joe Biden, the only candidate who’s offered a substantive Pakistan policy, said that he opposed maintaining aid at same levels to Pakistan if Musharraf does not take off his uniform and hold free and fair elections. After noting that he spoke to both Bhutto and Musharraf prior to Bush did the same, Biden — as he stated on CNN’s Late Edition on Sunday — called for the cessation of F-16 and P-3 assistance to Pakistan if Musharraf fails to meet the basic demands above. He said that Musharraf is not a sole player in Pakistan; he needs to keep his military happy. He called for a move from a Musharraf policy to a Pakistan policy, reaching out to Pakistan’s middle class by, for example, increasing education aid.

Bill Richardson said that he is worried that cutting off military aid could undermine U.S. relations with Pakistan’s military. He argued that the problem with U.S. policy toward Pakistan is that “we got our principles wrong.” The U.S., he claims, sent the message to Musharraf that it values security more than human rights. Richardson stated that he would make U.S. aid to Pakistan conditional. He would call on Musharraf to end the state of emergency, permit Bhutto to run in elections, resign from the army, hold free and fair elections, and restore the deposed Supreme Court justices. He added that Islamic parties only get 15% of the vote in Pakistan. In free and fair elections, he believes that moderates can win. Human rights, says Richardson, are at times more important than national security; America’s strengths aren’t just its military and economy, but also its values.

John Edwards listed some “basic goals” with respect to Pakistan. They are: make sure that extremists in Pakistan’s northwest are under control; support democratic reformers; elections take place in January; the country’s nuclear weapons are under control. He added that Pakistan is a “living, breathing example” of how the Bush administration’s nuclear policy won’t work in the long-term. The only way to keep the world safe, says Edwards, is to lead a long-term international effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Barack Obama described Pakistan as a “great example” of how human rights and defense of U.S. national security are “complementary.” Pakistan’s democracy, he says, would strengthen the battle against extremists; greater repression would worsen the situation. Obama said that propping up anti-democratic elements with make the U.S. less safe. He also mentioned Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, stating that he would do everything in his capacity as president to ensure that its nukes don’t get in the hands of extremists.

Christopher Dodd distinguished himself from the pack — in his ignorance of Pakistan’s political-security predicament. In a sweeping generalization that countered historical precedent in Pakistan and current opinion polls, Dodd said that in free and fair elections “in these countries” — i.e. Pakistan and the other 50+ Muslim majority countries — “the Islamic Jihad or Islamic Brotherhood” would win 85% of the vote. The odds of Islamists sweeping elections in Pakistan are as low as Dodd’s chances of winning a Democratic primary. Firstly, there is no organization such as the Islamic Jihad or Islamic Brotherhood in Pakistan. The Islamic Jihad is in Egypt and Palestine; the Islamic Brotherhood — a non-existent group, but presumably a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood — is restricted to the Arab world. The handful of Islamist parties managed their best performance ever in the 2003 elections; with the assistance of intelligence services, they formed the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal (MMA) and got 16.8% of National Assembly seats. Dodd’s 85% nightmare is just that — a nightmare; a scary dream — not reality. In the end, national security trumps human rights in Dodd’s view.

Hillary Clinton offered a discordant perspective on the Pakistan ‘problem’. After stating that national security outweighs human rights, she reverted to her ‘blame it on Bush’ strategy, and stated that the American president failed in capitalizing on the post-9/11 opportunity to achieve democracy in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Clinton noted she would inform Musharraf that his recent actions are not in his interest. She also said that she asked the Pakistani president earlier in the year if he wanted a special envoy for his country — presumably to negotiate a deal with Benazir Bhutto — and that despite his reply in the affirmative, the White House had not appointed such a person. Clinton seems to be unaware of Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher’s intimate — and perhaps excessive — role in the Bhutto-Musharraf negotiations.

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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