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Dissing Democracy in Asia


ONE big story from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to South Asia was that once again Washington's policymakers are trying to send F-16 jet fighters to Pakistan. This is like a broken record - the argument has come up repeatedly since 1990, when an amendment I wrote quashed a deal involving 28 of the planes - but unfortunately this time the sale may well happen.

Pakistan is a declared ally in the fight against terrorism, and thus we give it huge amounts of military aid. But F-16's have nothing to do with fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban. So what is really going on here? The answer is entwined in two decades of misguided United States policy toward India and Pakistan.

The truth is, we should have a robust pro-India stance. India is a democracy with a free market and a highly developed system of human rights. It could become our major bulwark against China in East Asia. It also has a large Muslim minority and, generally speaking, is an example of tolerance. And we have a mutually beneficial trade relationship with India that is helping us keep our technological edge. (Disclosure: I am on the board of Infosys Technologies, an Indian software company.)

Pakistan, on the other hand, is a corrupt, absolute dictatorship. It has a horrendous record on human rights and religious tolerance, and it has been found again and again to be selling nuclear materials to our worst enemies. It claims to be helping us to fight terrorism, although many intelligence experts have suggested that most of our money actually goes to strengthening the rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Yes, during the cold war India often sided with the Soviet Union while Pakistan went with the United States. Some old hands at the Pentagon still seem to think we should be rewarding Pakistan for that. But the cold war is long over. We have given the Pakistanis their due many times over.

From the late 1970's to the mid-1990's, as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I repeatedly warned that Pakistan was selling nuclear materials to other nations. Administrations, both Democratic and Republican, turned a blind eye; they even got leaders of our intelligence community to say that I didn't know what I was talking about. Well, everything I said has been proved absolutely true - to an even more worrisome degree than I had described.

Our military-industrial complex, which I believe dominates our foreign policy, favors Pakistan not only because we can sell it arms, but also because the Pentagon would often rather deal with dictatorships than democracies. When a top Pentagon official goes to Pakistan, he can meet with one general and get everything settled. On the other hand, if he goes to India, he has to talk to the prime minister, the Parliament, the courts and, God forbid, the free press.

Meeting with Pakistani leaders last week, Secretary Rice did say she looked forward to "the evolution of a democratic path toward elections in 2007." But she neither asked for nor received any sort of guarantees about elections, human rights or freedom of the press. She did bring up nuclear proliferation, but only in a perfunctory way. Likewise, President Bush had General Musharraf as a guest at Camp David in 2003, apparently without ever mentioning the administration's democracy program. This all makes a mockery of President Bush's inaugural speech in January, and is a prime example of the sort of dictator-coddling that, eventually, always comes back to haunt us.

We need a fundamental policy shift for the subcontinent. First, we should enthusiastically improve our treatment of India. We should not reject Pakistan entirely - we need it as an ally - but to treat India and Pakistan the same is a great mistake. Instead, we need to speak frankly in public about Pakistan's democratic and human-rights failures, as well as acknowledge that we can achieve our objectives in Pakistan with a much lower level of aid and a closer eye to ensuring that it goes toward the fight against terrorists. And we should not sell it any F-16's.

We should also make it clear that we will favor India in all major regional disputes. Without American support, Pakistan would be forced to drop its claims to the disputed region of Kashmir, as well as end its support of the region's Muslim militants (whom many in our intelligence services feel have ties to Al Qaeda).
Freeing ourselves from our profitless Pakistan policy would allow us to look clearly at the biggest problem in the region: China. We should tell Beijing that we will help India match China's arms buildup and that we will work toward a modified free-trade agreement with India to help it offset China's state-dominated trade practices.

The Bush administration is right to put the expansion of liberty and democracy at the center of its foreign policy. But as long as we favor dictatorships like Pakistan over free countries like India, the world will be right not to take our words seriously.

Larry Pressler is a former Republican senator from South Dakota.

Posted by Nikhil Khanna @ 12:29 AM


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This blog focuses on current issues concerning defense and national security for the world's largest democracy - India. It is updated regularly providing readers with in-depth information on technology transfer, acquisitions, counter-terrorism, security and military collaboration and strategic dialogue between India and the United States. The site includes links to top defense policy & research institutes, think-tanks, military sites and research organizations.
Cooperative Cope Thunder
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