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Dueling Presidential Strategies For Pakistan


Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (left) and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul in January 2009

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (left) and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul in January 2009

In separate opinion pieces published this week and a few short months ago, current Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and former commando general-turned-president Pervez Musharraf weighed in on resolving the current crisis in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Zardari, who is under a lot of domestic pressure because of the collapse of a deal that granted him amnesty from scores of corruption cases that successive governments compiled and pursued while he was in prison but which were never concluded.

Despite his challenging political circumstances, writing in the "New York Times," Zardari outlines a vision of a peaceful, progressive Pakistan, at peace with itself and its neighbors:

We need the support of our allies in war but also to help build a new Pakistan that promises a meaningful future to our children. We are not looking for -- and indeed reject -- dependency. We don’t need or want (nor would we accept) foreign troops to defeat the insurgency, and we seek trade more than aid from you in the future. It is an economically viable and socially robust democratic Pakistan that will be the most effective long-term weapon against terrorism, extremism and fanaticism. This is the necessary endgame. And this is how history will judge victory.

Musharraf, who is also in legal and political hot water, prefers to stay away from Pakistan and is reportedly earning handsome money from lecture tours in the West.

In a recent a recent "Wall Street Journal" opinion piece, the former general once again pitched his proposals for resolving the crisis in Pakistan and Afghanistan:

The military must ensure that we deal with insurgents from a position of strength. The dwindling number of al Qaeda elements must be totally eliminated, and the Taliban have to be dominated militarily. We must strengthen border-control measures with all possible means to isolate the militants on the Afghanistan and Pakistan sides.

The Pakistan military must continue to act strongly. Operationally, we must raise substantially more forces from within the tribal groups and equip them with more tanks and guns. On the Afghan side, the U.S. and ISAF troops must be reinforced. All of this must be done in combination with raising additional Afghan National Army troops, with significant Pashtun representation. Exploiting tribal divisions, we should also raise local militias.

On the political front, we need an invigorated dialogue with all groups in Afghanistan, including the Taliban. Afghanistan for centuries has been governed loosely through a social covenant between all the ethnic groups, under a sovereign king. This structure is needed again to bring peace and harmony. We have to reach out to Pashtun tribes and others who do not ideologically align themselves with the Taliban or al Qaeda. I have always said that "all Talibans are Pashtun, but all Pashtuns are not Taliban." Pakistan and Saudi Arabia can play pivotal roles in facilitating this outreach.

Alas, Musharraf tried all this during his nine years of autocratic rule -- and failed. Many analysts blame him for the current dilemma. They point to his "double game" when he presided over billions of U.S. dollars in aid but did little to go after the Taliban and Al-Qaeda wholeheartedly.

One strange aspect of his solution is his apparent sympathy for ethnic Pashtuns in Afghanistan. While advocating rights for some 15 million Pashtuns on Afghan territory, he did little to promote the welfare of more than 30 million Pashtuns in Pakistan. Many of them now blame his contradictory policies for turning their peaceful regions into a war zone where tens of thousands have died and millions have been displaced by six years of fighting.

Perhaps Musharraf should have read this sobering advice before lecturing the world on how to clean up a mess that critics accuse him of magnifying and sustaining in the long years of his dictatorship.

-- Abubakar Siddique

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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