New role for Pakistan

Outside editorial

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2002

This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

Six months ago, Pakistan was a pariah nation, creator of the Taliban regime in next-door Afghanistan and home to Islamic extremists. On Wednesday Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf visits the White House as the leader of a country moving back toward the international mainstream and preaching moderate Islam. That course will require help and a long-term commitment from the United States.

Washington already has pledged nearly $1 billion to assist Pakistan, and a U.S.-led consortium of nations has let Pakistan delay repayment of billions of dollars more in loans.

Pakistan has many uses for that money, but a prime one should be establishing public schools and opening the classrooms to girls. Public schools provide an alternative to religious classes that teach a perverted interpretation of the Koran and hatred of the West.

Military assistance also can help. That does not mean providing whatever weapons the nation wants and fueling an arms race with India, Pakistan's hostile neighbor. But it should include resuming the training of Pakistani soldiers in the United States and perhaps joint exercises between the two countries. Pakistan is providing bases for U.S. troops and aircraft to attack Afghanistan, a courageous move by Musharraf, given pro-Taliban sentiment within the country.

Washington should work with Pakistan and India, both nuclear-armed countries, to ease the threat of war between the two. That should involve quiet diplomacy rather than formal, public mediation. President Bush would do well to tell Musharraf, a general who seized power in a coup in 1999, that his army cannot continue to let guerrillas cross into Indian-controlled Kashmir, the main source of tension between the neighbors. India should remove some of its troops from the border in Kashmir and move toward meaningful talks with residents of the disputed state.

For decades Washington and Islamabad had close ties that included substantial U.S. economic and military assistance and U.S. bases in Pakistan. The bond grew stronger during the joint fight against the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But then Washington's attention turned elsewhere and Pakistan became a haven for terrorists. Pakistanis question whether the United States will remain steadfast this time.

Bush, who has often praised Musharraf for casting his lot with Washington after the September terror attacks, should say it again and say it loud: The United States' relationship with Pakistan is for the long run.

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