The Collegian
Friday, March 01, 2024

Political Faceoff: Don't Cut them Off

Richmond College '09

Along with Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan figured prominently in last week's presidential debate. One of the most interesting questions in the debate was whether the United States should withhold all aid to Pakistan. There is a $15 billion U.S. aid package to Pakistan awaiting Congressional approval. My preferred candidate, Barack Obama, seems open to vetoing the gift. I disagree with Mr. Obama on this front. The United States should not cease aid payments to the Pakistani government. The wisest course of action would be to continue sending aid while making clear that future aid will only reward good behavior.

This is hardly a clear cut issue. Pakistan's new president, Asif Ali Zardari, is not a perfect man. Known as "Mr. 10 percent" during his wife's presidency, Zardari is reviled in many quarters as a corrupt looter of state finances. Many worry whether he has the political will to address Pakistan's economic crisis and reign in extremists in the northwest. A few of Mr. Zardari's political opponents believe that he is mentally unstable.

However, there is some reason for optimism. Zardari's advisers recently unveiled a financial stabilization plan for Pakistan's ailing economy that looks promising to international donors and investors. Zardari invited Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, to attend his inauguration ceremony, perhaps signaling a renewed commitment to amicable relations. Zardari's party, the Pakistan People's Party, is, relatively speaking, strongly opposed to the goings-on in the northwest. Zardari's wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated by Islamic extremists.

Then why hasn't he done anything yet to fight the terrorists? The answer is that, even if Mr. Zardari wanted to attack the Taliban and al-Qaeda, his political position is too tenuous for him to do so. Only recently did he manage to consolidate political control, and his fledgling presidency is being watched carefully by Nawaz Sharif, Mr. Zardari's chief rival for the presidency. For now, Mr. Zardari needs to focus on bread and butter concerns.

This is a reasonable position. Pakistan's economy is in a mess. There is pervasive anger with the government. Many Pakistani observers point out, quite correctly, that solving problems of poverty, education and so forth would be a good way to tackle the problem of extremism in the first place. Furthermore, many Pakistanis view war against the Taliban as their government's kowtowing to American demands. Waging war right now would likely be counterproductive.

Given that Mr. Zardari remains on good behavior, the United States should continue to aid Pakistan. We can't expect the Pakistani government to alienate its people further by fighting a massive war that most Pakistani citizens don't support. Our best hope is that, given a little bit of time to consolidate his government and earn some support, Mr. Zardari can begin to work with America to eliminate the terrorist threat in Pakistan. Until then, the United States must continue to support Pakistan monetarily if it wants to both keep Pakistan receptive to America's needs.

Paul will undoubtedly respond that funding Pakistan will not only fail to improve matters, it'll make them worse. I concede that this is a possibility. Nevertheless, there is no chance for stabilizing Pakistan and bringing it closer to a meaningful defensive alliance unless we keep up cooperative relations with the government, and that includes US.. aid.

Rather than cut our losses and run, we should try to salvage an extremely important strategic partnership. There are risks involved, but high risk bets offer the potential for high rewards.

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