Experts testifying before the U.S. Congressl have urged a shift in the U.S. approach toward Pakistan, where they and congressional critics assert President Pervez Musharraf has failed to act strongly enough against Taliban and al-Qaida elements in his country. VOA's Dan Robinson has more from Capitol Hill.
Demonstrations by lawyers and opposition activists in Pakistan protesting the removal of the supreme court chief justice, as well as clashes in the northwest between tribesman and Uzbek militants have prompted new concerns in U.S. Congress.
As lawmakers and the Bush administration watches developments closely, the South Asia and Middle East subcommittee in the House of Representatives heard three experts call for a shift in how the U.S. handles relations with President Musharraf.
Husain Haqqani, Director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University, says U.S.-Pakistani relations have been erratic, characterized by spurts of exchanges of aid, policy concessions and sanctions.
Suggesting that American aid has not had the impact on Pakistan's people that it could have, he advocates a change in how Washington deals with President Musharraf. "Personalization of relations between the world's sole super power and a nuclear-armed nation of 150-million people is not the best way forward for either. It does not even fulfill the short-term purpose of securing Pakistan's cooperation in the global war on terror," he said.
Among other things, Haqqani asserts that General Musharraf's government lacks public legitimacy required for an effective war against extremists.
Lisa Curtis a senior research fellow at the Asia Studies Center of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. says General Musharraf and military commanders have taken steps against terrorists in border areas, suffering at least 700 casualties in the process.
But without what she calls an uncompromising policy toward all terrorist and militant groups, it will not be sufficient.
"Otherwise, the country risks facing a permanent state of instability on both its western and eastern borders, as well as increasing international isolation for what could be perceived as tacit support for terrorists attacks against the west," she said.
Democratic Committee chairman Gary Ackerman says Pakistan's inability or unwillingness to control its own territory along the Afghanistan border is raising questions in Congress, and suggests the U.S. should condition future aid on specific goals. "It is long past time for the Congress to add benchmarks on aid to Pakistan to ensure that progress against terrorism and towards restoring democracy is actually made, and that we stop responding to every crisis in Pakistan with the refrain of more money," he said.
Ackerman says riots over President Musharraf's decision to remove the chief justice of the supreme court highlights, in his words, the fact that the return of Pakistan's democracy is an issue that has slipped in emphasis, if not actual importance
General Musharraf has said he suspended Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry for abusing his authority but opposition parties accuse the president of attempting to exert pressure before elections that could spark legal challenges to his rule.
Lisa Curtis says the disturbances, which have sparked a political crisis in Pakistan, should be seen as reflecting a public yearning for democracy. "We see a hunger for democracy in Pakistan. We see the civilian society who wants to preserve the democratic institutions in the country. They have made this clear, so I think this is something that should inform our policy as we move forward," she said.
Pakistan has received about $10 billion from the U.S. since the 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the United States, most of which critics note has been provided as part of the war on terrorism and in security assistance and channeled primarily through Pakistan's military.
Congressman Ackerman says Congress is considering a Bush administration request for an additional $110 million for economic aid to Pakistan's federally-administered tribal areas, along with about $71 million in military aid for Pakistan's frontier corps against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.