On Saturday, the Daily Times cited a Newsweek interview with Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama, who criticized the United States’ decision to “put all [its] eggs in the Musharraf basket.” He was quoted stating, “There is a sizable middle class in Pakistan that believes in rule of law and believes in a government that is accountable to the people…Our willingness to put all our eggs in the Musharraf basket without understanding this other tradition, and without understanding that our choice in a place like Pakistan is not simply [between] military dictatorship or Islamic rule, led us to make a series of miscalculations that has weakened our fight against terrorism in the region.”
Pakistan first gained notoriety in the 2008 presidential campaign in the summer of 2007, when Sen. Obama said, “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President [Pervez] Musharraf won’t act, we will,” [see previous backgrounder post on the candidates’ positions on Pakistan]. Although the recent Newsweek piece reiterated that his position on the country was not a “soft” one, it also noted he said that in places like Pakstan, “America must do both – win over the people by supporting democracy and hit the terrorists harder.”
Why are these statements significant? Regardless of one’s view on the U.S. involvement in Pakistan, the truth is that our fates’ are inevitably interlaced. Pakistan has always been a geostrategic ally of the United States, and recent statements by President Bush suggest that we aren’t shifting off that radar anytime soon. In an interview with ABC News Saturday, (cited by Dawn newspaper) the U.S. President described the tribal areas (FATA region) as one of the most dangerous places in the world today where “Al Qaeda has established safe havens and was plotting attacks against the United States.” Pakistan, he emphasized, not Afghanistan or Iraq, “is now the most likely place where a plot could be hatched to carry out any 9/11 attack in the U.S.”
Does this mean the U.S. will be invading Pakistan anytime soon? Given the anti-U.S. sentiment in the region, probably not. However, what will realistically occur is a continued diplomatic and military effort to counter this terrorist threat. On Thursday, CNN reported that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signed deployment orders that will send U.S. military trainers to Pakistan this summer to teach Pakistan Frontier Corps [drawn from tribes in the border area] counterinsurgency skills critical to fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The deployment, noted the news agency, will be small – about two dozen troops who will stay through the spring of next year. CNN added, “All of this is the first step in the long-term program on U.S.-Pakistan counterinsurgency cooperation.” However, in order for anti-U.S. perceptions to potentially change, these efforts cannot merely be military-centered but also be directed at long-term reform and development.