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Debating U.S. Relations with Pakistan


The head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency says al-Qaida-linked militants and allies of a Pakistani tribal leader are responsible for last month's assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

CIA Director Michael Hayden told The Washington Post newspaper recently that Pakistan opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed by fighters allied with tribal leader Baitullah Mehsud -- with support from the al-Qaida terror network.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf also has blamed al-Qaida-linked militants for the murder. And he has asked for Scotland Yard's help in the investigation.

But Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, wants a United Nations probe into the assassination because he says the government has something to hide. "The more they run away from an international inquiry, the more people are suspicious of them," says Zardari.

U.S. Calls for an Investigation

Some U.S. lawmakers are calling for a credible investigation, including the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, New York Congressman Gary Ackerman, who recently held a hearing on U.S. foreign policy toward Pakistan.

"Otherwise, Ms. Bhutto's death will become the province of conspiracy theorists and just another in a long line of mysterious and unresolved deaths of Pakistani leaders," said Congressman Ackerman.

Representative David Scott from Georgia, who also serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, added that it would be in President Musharraf's interest to conduct a thorough investigation.

"We have a government that is teetering on the brink of complete breakdown largely because its leader -- Musharraf -- is the leading suspect in the minds of many, if not most of the Pakistani people, as being the force behind this assassination of former Prime Minister Bhutto," said Scott.

In addition to conducting a thorough investigation into Bhutto's assassination, many experts say the United States should pressure Mr. Musharraf to restore Pakistan's judiciary and lift the restrictions on political parties and the media he imposed last year.

Christine Fair, a South Asia expert with the RAND Corporation here in Washington, testified before the House Subcommittee. "As the political situation will most certainly remain turbulent for the foreseeable future, it is imperative that the United States reach out to all political parties, key civilian institutions and civil society groups while sustaining a working relationship with Pakistan's armed forces," said Fair.

But U.S. Congressman David Scott questions whether that can be done with President Musharraf in power. He told the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia that Washington should also reassess its financial aid to Pakistan.

"How much of our aid should be placed in the military operations? And not at the expense of that, but are we putting enough into where the issue has to resolve, which is in the political, which is in building the ground blocks to put a democracy in place with the full support of the majority of the people? And finally the question: Can that be done with Musharraf or are we putting all our eggs in one basket?," asked Scott. "That might be the wrong basket in the eyes of the majority of the people of Pakistan."

U.S. Focus on Perez Musharraf

Many analysts add that Pervez Musharraf's popularity in Pakistan is falling. They say that in addition to being hated by the militants, Mr. Musharraf may be losing support among the Pakistani people and the military.

Lisa Curtis, an expert on Pakistan at The Heritage Foundation, told Congress that Pervez Musharraf should be viewed only as a transitional figure whose influence is likely to decline in the coming months.

"The U.S. relationship with Pakistan will likely go through an adjustment period as Washington shifts from dealing mainly with Musharraf to a more broad-based government run by civilians," said Curtis.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California agreed that the United States should tailor its foreign policy to reach out and include the people of Pakistan, instead of focusing largely on Pervez Musharraf, and Pakistan's armed and security forces.

"The United States has been operating all of these years under the assumption that the people of Pakistan are inclined to be radical Islamists and thus our enemies, whereas, in fact, the military and [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency known as] the ISI have been the greatest allies of radical Islam in that country and the general population is far less inclined toward accepting the radicals and far more inclined toward democracy than is the military, whom we have been supporting," said Congressman Rohrabacher.

The War on Terror

Also testifying before the House Subcommittee was Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He added that Pakistan's military is ignoring some insurgents in the war on terror who serve the country's interests, including Kashmiri militants.

"What the Pakistani leadership did was essentially segment the war into those terrorists that they would go after because they saw the United States to be invested in a certain class of terrorist, primarily al-Qaida, while giving other terrorists the pass because they were important to Pakistan's interests," said Tellis.

U.S. Congressman Gary Ackerman warned of limited results if people in Pakistan feel they are fighting the war on terror on behalf of the United States.

"Pakistanis must come to see this fight as their own. They must come to view the suicide attacks against police, the military and the government ministers and moderate political leaders -- attacks in which thousands of innocent Pakistanis have been killed -- as attacks against them, against their state, their institutions, and against their democracy," said Ackerman.

Congressman Ackerman also said the U.S. has reached a crossroads in its relations with Pakistan. "It is clear that despite the deaths of many Pakistani soldiers and police the fight against terrorism has not gone away, as we would have hoped. It is equally clear that Pakistan is no closer to genuine democracy and arguably a good bit further away. It is time to change the course and build a new and different relationship with Pakistan," said Ackerman.

The experts who testified before Congress also urged the international community to have a contingency plan to help secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal in case political violence spirals out of control and the government collapses.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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