“What happens in Pakistan doesn’t just stay in Pakistan,” Senator John Kerry argued at a Center for American Progress Action Fund event today about the implications of the Pakistan elections for U.S. national security. The Senator recently returned from a trip to South Asia, where he monitored Pakistan’s elections.
“Despite remarkable violence in the run up to the election…people turned out in remarkable numbers,” showing the commitment of the Pakistani people to democracy and stability in their government, said Kerry. While the elections were not perfect, they met the “threshold of credibility.” In light of the results, the United States must evaluate its commitments to Pakistan and Afghanistan. He argued that Pakistan and Afghanistan were the real central front in fighting extremism.
The United States needs more than a military strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it must move beyond a Karzai policy or a Musharraf policy. U.S. aid to Pakistan must focus on more than military support, such as strengthening governance in Pakistan. “Elections alone are not a cure all, nor do they make a functioning democracy,” said Kerry, but they are an important first step. Senator Kerry proposed tripling non-military assistance from $500 million to $1.5 billion.
But money alone will not solve the problem. The United States also needs to engage in an active discussion about counterterrorism efforts with the new government of Pakistan. Senator Kerry expressed concerns that these new leaders in Pakistan may define the threat differently than the United States, seeing the Taliban as a greater threat than the Al Qaeda network. These differing perceptions could either help or harm American national security. As a nation, Kerry said, “we need a stable Pakistan as a long-term ally,” particularly if we want to strengthen security on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
A long-term strategy toward Pakistan also needs to include Afghanistan, which has not been sufficiently prioritized by the administration. The challenge in Afghanistan is largely a nation-building challenge, and the United States needs to expand training for the Afghan National Police, increase reconstruction and development assistance, contingent on good governance. The United States should also create a civilian reserve corps in the U.S. government to more effectively respond. Furthermore, the mission in Afghanistan needs a comprehensive plan to address the poppy problem and issues of corruption; and one person should be in charge of the international community’s disparate actions.
“It’s in our long-term security interest,” said Kerry, to strengthen both Pakistan and Afghanistan and support efforts to create stable states. U.S. national security requires a comprehensive regional approach, and Pakistan must remain a key focus of U.S. efforts against Al Qaeda and terrorism worldwide.