U.S. must ensure Pakistani reforms

Despite his imminent travel plans in South Asia, President Clinton has yet to declare whether or not he will visit Pakistan this March. Considering Pakistan’s current tensions with India and its domestic instability, the United States’ foreign relations priority should be to encourage democratic reforms in the region.
Although Pakistan and the United States were allies during the Cold War, U.S. presidents have traditionally avoided expressing any sort of diplomatic disposition toward the nation. To do so would risk offending the Indian government, which was vitally important during the Cold War. The India-Pakistan conflict, which flared into war on three separate occasions, alarmed the international community in May of 1998 when both nations successfully displayed nuclear weapons capability. Early last year, the two rivals nearly erupted into war when Indian troops in Kashmir discovered that Pakistani-deployed militants and alleged Afghani mercenaries had secured strategic outposts inside the Indian line of control. Unfortunately, neither Pakistani governments — notoriously corrupt and unstable — nor heightened India-Pakistan tensions afford the U.S. government much room to exert its influence.
However, in the post-Cold War era, the United States has no strategic necessity in supporting or even tolerating military dictatorships. Although Pakistan’s military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, has expressed the wish to return Pakistan to democratic rule, there have been few signs of this happening anytime soon. Granted, a peaceful transition is difficult as Musharraf must contend with and appease militant Islamic leaders while trying to stabilize his government, but the United States must not be swayed from its demands for democracy. It should be a clearly stated imperative for any country that wishes to have solid diplomatic relations with the United States that it should have a firm and proven commitment to the democratic process. This is not to say that Gen. Musharraf should be condemned or ostracized in the vein of Fidel Castro, but that the United States-Pakistan relationship should be cooled until the general returns the power to Pakistanis.
Secondly, the United States should not lend support to the Pakistani government until it can assure that deposed president Nawaz Sharif will get a just trial, if not a general pardon until the legislative function of the government has been fully restored to democratic standards. In addition, the Pakistani government needs to prove that it is committed to preventing terrorism and renounce its ideological and strategic ties with the Taliban and Kashmiri terrorists operating in India. The Taliban has given aegis to accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and refuses to release him to international authorities. Additionally, the Indian government blamed Pakistan for supporting the recent hijacking of an Indian Airways jet, but this claim is largely unsubstantiated.
With the threat of communism gone, but the danger of nuclear proliferation heightening, the United States should lead the way in urging democratic reforms. Gen. Musharraf’s government, founded on a coup which overthrew democratically elected officials, does not reflect accordance with the modern standards for democracy nor diplomacy. For an open dialogue to exist in South Asia, democratic integrity is essential.