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Democracy In Pakistan Would Help Afghan Stability

Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, November 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Washington is strongly urging President Pervez Musharraf to restore the democratic process in Pakistan following his declaration of emergency rule. U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman told RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel on November 6 that one reason is Washington's conviction that building democracy in Pakistan would also contribute to stability in Afghanistan, where NATO-led troops continue to battle Taliban insurgents.

RFE/RL: Washington has registered its displeasure with Musharraf's government for declaring emergency rule and effectively putting on hold plans for general elections. You, yourself, had originally planned to visit Pakistan during your current foreign tour, but that stop has been cancelled as part of the negative U.S. response. What would Washington have preferred to see happen in Pakistan?

Eric Edelman:
We are deeply disturbed as a government, as are others, by the issuance of the so-called provisional constitutional order. I think it would have been our preference that Pakistan stay on the course that it was on of having elections and moving towards a more firmly rooted constitutional form of government, rooted in the voice of the people as registered at the polls. And I think what we would like to see now is, as quickly as possible, for Pakistan to get back on that course, to hold the elections that were meant to be held in January, for President Musharraf to give some indication about his intentions in terms of taking off his uniform and returning Pakistan to civilian rule and making sure that this provisional constitutional order is an event of very short duration. Our preference would have been, quite frankly, that he not issue it at all.

Is Washington confident that if we go through elections in Pakistan that the result will be as strong an ally in the war on terror as President Musharraf has been?

Edelman: Well, this is obviously one of those difficult problems in the world, where you have to balance a lot of competing interests. We have many in Pakistan. One interest, of course, is to continue the close work we have done together with Pakistan in fighting terrorism. I was in London yesterday [November 5] and both Britons and Americans face a common challenge, there is a lot of plotting against our respective homelands that is going on in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and parts of the Northwest Frontier Province in Pakistan, so that's a matter of great concern because of the Al-Qaeda presence there.

We have a great concern as well, we and the U.K., but also the other NATO allies who are represented in [the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] ISAF because of the Taliban presence in the same area which comes across the border and ends up killing NATO troops and Afghan civilians.

And of course Pakistan has nuclear weapons, it is a nuclear-weapons state, so its stability is a matter of great concern not just to us but to its neighbors and the rest of the world. So it is a very important part of the world, a very important country. We think the long-term stability of the country is best guaranteed by a political process that is moving it in the direction of accountable government and constitutional rule and that is what we hope will happen.

RFE/RL: As you mentioned, there is a lot of cross-border movement and the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are active on both sides. Often we look at this as principally an Afghan problem, because the fighting is in Afghanistan. But more recently we also are seeing fighting inside Pakistan's tribal areas. Is there a danger that the fight with the Taliban, with Al-Qaeda, could escalate into a larger regional problem?

Edelman: There is clearly an insurgent group in the area, it operates both across the border and inside Pakistan and I think it is not in anybody's interest for the situation to go on in the way that it has. It is something that we have been concerned about and have had ongoing discussions with our Pakistani colleagues about, and our hope is that we can help provide them with the kind of successful counterinsurgent strategy that they are going to need, which is going to involve a lot more than just military activity. It is going to require a lot of economic, social, and political development.

We, in the Department of State as well as in the Department of Defense, have been looking to provide Pakistan over a period of years in the future with funding in order to be able to help them put together that kind of strategy and we want to go forward with that but, of course, the [U.S.] Congress provides oversight for us and we will have to answer questions that are already being raised in Congress [about Musharraf's emergency rule], and we have some legal issues that we will have to work our way through because of various legal prohibitions that might come into effect as a result of the situation there. It's one reason why we think it's best to get back onto a path of elections and constitutional rule as quickly as possible.

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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