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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Stop dancing with dictators, Zardari tells the US

By Anwar Iqbal
Tuesday, 23 Jun, 2009 | 04:59 AM PST |

WASHINGTON: In an unusually harsh article published in The Washington Post on Monday, President Asif Ali Zardari blamed the United States for the present mess in Pakistan, claiming that Washington used his country as a 'blunt instrument of the Cold War.'

But in the same article, he urged his American allies to send 'immediate assistance' to help him save democracy.

The tone and the content of the article surprised many in Washington, causing some to speculate if relations between the two governments were still as friendly as both say.

'The West, most notably the United States, has been all too willing to dance with dictators in pursuit of perceived short-term goals,' he wrote. 'The litany of these policies and their consequences clutter the earth, from the Marcos regime in the Philippines, to the Shah in Iran, to Mohammed Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan.'

According to Mr Zardari, 'each case has proved that myopic strategies that sacrifice principle lead to unanticipated long-term consequences.'

In Pakistan, he added, 'the West stood by as a democratically elected government was toppled by a military dictatorship in the late '70s. Because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the West used my nation as a blunt instrument of the Cold War.

'It empowered a Gen Zia dictatorship that brutalised its people, decimated our political parties, murdered the prime minister who had founded Pakistan's largest political party, and destroyed the press and civil society.

'And once the Soviets were defeated, the Americans took the next bus out of town, leaving behind a political vacuum that ultimately led to the Talibanisation and radicalisation of Afghanistan, the birth of Al Qaeda and the current jihadist insurrection in Pakistan.

'The heroin mafia, which arose as a consequence of the efforts to implode the Soviet Union, now takes in $5 billion a year, twice the budget of our army and police. This is the price Pakistan continues to pay.

'Dancing with dictators never pays off. Frankly, the worst democracy is better than any dictatorship. Dictatorship leads to frustration, extremism and terrorism.'

The president then moved to a conciliatory note, saying that 'the past is the past, and we can't undo it. We can, however, address the consequences of past mistakes and make sure they are not repeated.'

His 'most immediate goal,' the president wrote, 'is for the civilized world to rally to the support of Pakistani democracy and the Pakistani people's struggle against extremism.'

In this war, he said, 'we are in the trenches for ourselves but also for the world.'

Pakistan, he wrote, had lost more soldiers – 1,200 of them – fighting the Taliban in Pakistan than all of the countries of Nato have lost, combined, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Thousands of civilians, victims of attacks such as the recent bombing of the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, have died too, he added.

The president warned that the world did not have the luxury to walk away from Afghanistan and Pakistan, as doing so would have disastrous consequences for all.

'The West, indeed the entire civilized world, does not have that luxury in Afghanistan and Pakistan (of walking away),' he warned. 'If the Taliban and Al Qaeda are allowed to triumph in our region, their destabilising alliance will spread across the continents.'

Reminding Washington that only an 'economically viable' Pakistan can successfully combat terrorism, Mr Zardari appealed for urgent international assistance for Pakistan. 'We need immediate assistance. The Obama administration recognises that only an economically viable Pakistan can contain the terrorist menace,' he wrote.

Mr Zardari noted that the US administration had committed $1.5 billion per annum for five years to help stabilise Pakistan's economy.

'Now, rest of the world must step up and match the US effort... Pakistan needs a robust assistance package so that we can deliver for the people and defeat militants,' he said.

He also asked for assistance in helping Pakistan deal with the millions of people displaced during the Swat offensive.

'Pakistan paid a heavy price more than US and Nato in the anti-terror war,' the president wrote.

'But aid is not enough,' he noted. 'In the long term, Pakistan needs trade to allow us to become economically independent. Only such an economically robust Pakistan will be able to contain the fanatics and demonstrate to the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide that democracy and economic development go hand in hand.'

He praised a US scheme for creating regional opportunity zones in Afghanistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas region of Pakistan that will remove trade barriers and provide economic incentives to build factories, start industries, employ workers – and give hope to the people.

This opportunity zone concept, he wrote, should be a model to Europe, as well. Europe must realize that it was in its own self-interest, as the United States has realized, to do everything possible to grow the Pakistani economy and to provide incentives for Pakistani exports to the continent,' he added.

'My wife travelled the world preaching democracy to what should have been its loudest choir,' the president recalled. 'The doors of many western governments were shut to her, but she was not deterred.'

The president quoted Benazir Bhutto as saying that 'truth, justice and the forces of history are on our side' and added: 'Today, we shall see if America and Europe are on our side as well.'

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