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Look Beyond Musharraf, says Congressman Ackerman PDF Print
Written by Aziz Haniffa   
Thursday, 05 April 2007 00:00

A key United States lawmaker has said it is long past time for the Congress to add benchmarks on aid to Pakistan.

This was necessary "to ensure that progress against terrorism and towards restoring democracy is actually made, and we stop responding to every crisis in Pakistan with the refrain of more money," said Congressman Gary Ackerman, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.

Convening a hearing titled US Policy Towards Pakistan, Ackerman slammed Islamabad for its continuing duplicity in helping the US in its global war on terror.

"The government of Pakistan may lack certain capabilities, but we are na?ve to think that this is the only problem," he felt.

"Pakistan long ago made a strategic decision to help us with the Al Qaeda but also to turn a blind eye towards the Taliban in the belief that their former allies will once again prove useful to them in their regional maneuvering against India and Iran," he said.

"What other conclusion could one draw when our own military commanders testify that it is 'generally accepted,' that Taliban leaders operate openly in Quetta, one of Pakistan's largest cities?" he asked.

"The showboat arrest of the former Taliban defense minister Mullah Obaidullah in Quetta during Vice President Cheney's visit reinforces the conclusion that Pakistan could act against the Taliban, if they were only willing," he said.

"Even if you believe that Pakistan is doing all it can to assist us in the war on terror, the evidence shows that it is not enough, and it is harming US interests in Afghanistan and undermining Afghan efforts? to establish a stable, secure and democratic government.

"The question before Congress is not whether we should stop the Taliban and Al Qaeda as a sanctuary, the question is whether all the money we've provided to date has produced the result we want and need," he said.

"I don't believe it has. In fact, I believe that the government of Pakistan will use the threat of terrorists to extract as much from us as they possibly can and we have proven willing time and again to oblige."

Pakistan was also being duplicitous vis-?-vis proliferation, he said, noting "there are still grave concerns about the nature and extent of the 'nuclear Wal-Mart' run by [Pakistani nuclear scientist] A Q Khan."

He pointed out that "to date no agent or investigator of the United States has had any direct access to him. We have only the purported information from Khan passed to us by the Government of Pakistan -- a government which in one breath places him under house arrest and in the next celebrates him as a national hero.

"Meanwhile, we are left to wonder whether Dr Khan's former associates have been arrested, or if they decided it was time for a career change or merely changed aliases," he said.

The other problem was the lack of democracy in Pakistan, he said, referring to the rioting over the weekend in Lahore over President Pervez Musharraf's decision to remove the chief justice of the Supreme Court "for as yet unspecified reasons."

This "highlights the fact that the return of Pakistan to democracy is an issue that has slipped in emphasis if not in actual importance," he said.

Yet "for six years now, Congress has authorized the President to waive the provision of law which would ordinarily cut off assistance to a military government after a coup. I return for that waiver and $3.5 billion, we have seen very little in the way of progress back towards democracy."

As for Musharraf's plans to hold an election later this year, "If past is prologue, these elections will be no freer and no fairer than others."

Ackerman predicted that "those candidates who might actually be able to mount a significant political challenge to President Musharraf will either be undercut or barred outright from participating, clearing the field for only a challenge from Islamist candidates and setting before the voters the false choice of Musharraf or militants in control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

"The choice is obvious, but not appetizing and clearly one we should be working to change," he said.

"What we truly need in Pakistan is someone else to talk to," he argued, but the Bush administration was "content to only speak with President Musharraf and portrays him as the indispensable man.

"The truth is, for our goals to be achieved in Pakistan there should be more than one phone number there to dial," he said.

Congressman Joe Crowley, also a New York Democrat, and like Ackerman a former co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, said, "Our alliance with Pakistan after 9/11 has always made me weary. Pakistan was given a choice by the President after the terrorist attacks; you are either with us or against us. I have never felt Pakistan was truly with us."

He also expressed deep concern over the the removal of the chief justice and said Musharraf "has shown little interest in relinquishing his role as head of the military."

The Pakistani government could certainly do more, he said, "like sharing all of its intelligence and acting against Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters inside their territory.

"We cannot tolerate a Pakistan that plays both sides," he asserted. "We need a clear and reliable commitment of all our partners in the global fight on terrorism. And this has to be made clear to the government of Pakistan."

Earlier, the Bush administration said it expects Musharraf to live up to his pledge to give up his army chief's position by end 2007, but it was "not going to dictate to him or anybody else" on how he should follow though on his commitments to transform Pakistan into a modern and progressive Islamic State, he added.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said, "he [Musharraf] has made certain commitments in this regard and we think it's important that he follow through on those commitments.

"Of course, we can offer guidance and counsel and encouragement to continue along the pathway to democracy," he said, "but President Musharraf is good... has been a solid friend in fighting the war on terror. We believe that President Musharraf has made a commitment to change Pakistan and we think that is a positive thing."

As for the suspension of Chief Justice Ifthikar Chaudhry and the subsequent crisis,? including the resignation of one of the three deputy attorneys general in protest over? Chaudhry's removal, McCormack this was "an individual decision of conscience that somebody has to take."

Weakly defending Musharraf, he said, "I know that President Musharraf has himself said that this might have been handled differently and that the issue is now before a high council -- a senior panel of judges -- to be resolved and that President Musharraf would abide by the decisions of the senior judicial council."

On the recent riots that followed the military regime's sacking of the Geo-TV headquarters and manhandling several of its staff, McCormack said the administration found it "encouraging that President Musharraf has come out and said that, for example, the raid on the television station in Pakistan was unacceptable and that they are looking into exactly what happened."

Last Updated on Friday, 17 September 2010 21:40


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