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The Need for a Real Strategic Partnership

With little notice earlier this month, the United States declared Pakistan a major non-NATO ally. This significant increase in status provides greater access to U.S. military technology, training and equipment and confers important diplomatic standing. For a country that was under economic and military sanctions just a few years ago for its nuclear activities, the designation is a windfall.

In fact, the ally status is the latest in a series of concessions the United States has provided to Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001. Other benefits include $1.5 billion in debt relief and a proposed aid package of $3 billion over five years – one of our biggest such programs in the world.

At a time when the United States openly seeks Pakistan's help in apprehending Taliban and al Qaeda militants in the Afghan-Pakistan border regions, such moves are in line with U.S. policy objectives. But the administration appears to have given Pakistan's military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, a virtual blank check for his cooperation, despite the fact that Pakistan has maintained a terrible record on other stated American priorities – halting nuclear proliferation, promoting democracy and ensuring human rights.

Recent revelations about the extensive black market nuclear network of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan raise renewed fears about the country's nuclear proliferation. The United States has turned a blind eye to the Pakistani military's possible involvement in the network, saying that the search for Osama Bin Laden should take precedence over investigating the military's role in the proliferation. But given how critical controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction is to U.S. national security, we need complete confidence that this network has been shut down, not simply driven further underground.

Moreover, representative government and transparency are recognized as key weapons in the fight against terrorism and political extremism. Yet the Musharraf government has made little progress with respect to democracy and human rights. Since his ascension to power through a military coup in 1999, Musharraf has declared himself president, amended the Pakistani constitution, and consolidated his grip on power through undemocratic means. The State Department's own 2003 human rights country report classified Pakistan's human rights record as "poor." If we choose to embrace Pakistan as a strategic ally, we must not squander our leverage to promote more positive internal change.

We must also remember that Musharraf's anti-democratic policies appear to have strengthened radical Islamist elements in his nation. Religious parties gained a significant number of seats in the October 2002 national elections because authorities enforced restrictions on more moderate government political opponents. As a result, an anti-U.S. coalition of religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), now runs the Northwest Frontier Province on the tumultuous Afghan-Pakistan border, where Taliban and al-Qaeda forces are believed to be hiding.

While engagement with Pakistan is certainly warranted, the administration must make clear to Musharraf that his courageous choice to be "with us" and not "against us" on terrorism does not constitute a free pass on outstanding issues of importance to the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and the region. Like anyone in power, Musharraf has a vested interest in maintaining and extending his power. But, as his recent appearance on the U.S. Sunday talk show circuit attests, he also wants international acceptance. To this end, the administration's non-NATO ally designation is an investment in Pakistan.

But to bear fruit, this investment must aim to reach beyond the country's potential usefulness against al Qaeda and the Taliban. While greater cooperation on nuclear proliferation and a real political commitment to resolve the Kashmir conflict with India are clear imperatives, internal reforms are also vital in ultimately diminishing the threat of terrorism from the region.

Most important, our partnership should not be just a short-term marriage of convenience. As Richard Clarke points out in his book, Against All Enemies, our support for Pakistan and Afghanistan during the 1980s helped indigenous forces to defeat the Soviets, precipitating an end to the Cold War. But the unintended consequence of our narrow policy approach was the start of a jihadist movement that reached its apex on Sept. 11. For our own security, and for the ultimate benefit of the Pakistani people, our alliance this time around must include a real roadmap back to democracy and transparency.

Mirna Galic is a national security analyst at the Center for American Progress.

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