The Frontier Against Terrorism
After the debacle of Vietnam, the United States could pack up and leave with minimal consequences for its genuine national interests; similarly, for the British in the subcontinent and the French in Algeria. But the West, indeed the entire civilized world, does not have that luxury in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the Taliban and al-Qaeda are allowed to triumph in our region, their destabilizing alliance will spread across the continents.
In Pakistan today, democracy must succeed. The forces of extremism must be vanquished. Failure is not an option; not for us, not for the world.
How can we ensure that the forces of freedom defeat the forces of fanaticism? The problems that have fueled extremism are multifaceted and the solutions equally multidimensional. We need short- and long-term strategies, and we must realize that to truly eliminate the terrorist menace, we have to succeed not only militarily but politically, economically and socially.
The West, most notably the United States, has been all too willing to dance with dictators in pursuit of perceived short-term goals. The litany of these policies and their consequences clutter the earth, from the Marcos regime in the Philippines, to the Shah in Iran, to Mohammed Zia ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. Invariably, each case has proved that myopic strategies that sacrifice principle lead to unanticipated long-term consequences.
Let me focus on Pakistan. The West stood by as a democratically elected government was toppled by a military dictatorship in the late '70s. Because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the West used my nation as a blunt instrument of the Cold War. It empowered a Gen. Zia dictatorship that brutalized its people, decimated our political parties, murdered the prime minister who had founded Pakistan's largest political party, and destroyed the press and civil society. And once the Soviets were defeated, the Americans took the next bus out of town, leaving behind a political vacuum that ultimately led to the Talibanization and radicalization of Afghanistan, the birth of al-Qaeda and the current jihadist insurrection in Pakistan. The heroin mafia, which arose as a consequence of the efforts to implode the Soviet Union, now takes in $5 billion a year, twice the budget of our army and police. This is the price Pakistan continues to pay.
Dancing with dictators never pays off. Frankly, the worst democracy is better than any dictatorship. Dictatorship leads to frustration, extremism and terrorism. But the past is the past, and we can't undo it. We can, however, address the consequences of past mistakes and make sure they are not repeated. My most immediate goal is for the civilized world to rally to the support of Pakistani democracy and the Pakistani people's struggle against extremism.
In the battle against international terrorism, we are in the trenches for ourselves but also for the world. We have lost more soldiers -- 1,200 of them -- fighting the Taliban in Pakistan than all of the countries of NATO have lost, combined, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Thousands of civilians, victims of attacks such as the recent bombing of the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, have died.
And on a very personal level, I have lost my wife, Benazir Bhutto, the mother of my children and Pakistan's greatest leader. She warned the world, in her speeches and her writings, in her last book and her very last words, that fanaticism is a threat to all people; that dictatorship had led to its spread within Pakistan; that my nation had to wake up; and that the world must take notice. She paid with her life for her prescience and her courage, and I have to answer to future generations and to my own children that she did not die in vain.
We need immediate assistance. The Obama administration recognizes that only an economically viable Pakistan can contain the terrorist menace. The United States has committed $1.5 billion a year for five years to help stabilize our economy, and the House of Representatives and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have acted decisively to reorient the Pakistani-American relationship toward not just a military alliance but a sustained economic partnership.
Now, the rest of the world must step up and match the U.S. effort. Pakistan needs a robust assistance package so that we can deliver for the people and defeat the militants. And the rest of the world should again follow the American lead in helping us deal with the millions of internally displaced people who are the most recent victims of terrorism in our nation.
But aid is not enough. In the long term, Pakistan needs trade to allow us to become economically independent. Only such an economically robust Pakistan will be able to contain the fanatics and demonstrate to the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide that democracy and economic development go hand in hand. Notably, the United States is moving forward with regional opportunity zones in Afghanistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas region of Pakistan that will remove trade barriers and provide economic incentives to build factories, start industries, employ workers -- and give hope to the people. This opportunity zone concept should be a model to Europe, as well. Europe must realize that it is in its own self-interest, as the United States has realized, to do everything possible to grow the Pakistani economy and to provide incentives for Pakistani exports to the continent.
My wife traveled the world preaching democracy to what should have been its loudest choir. The doors of many Western governments were shut to her, but she was not deterred. She was relentless in her passion for democracy, and unwaveringly optimistic about its ultimate success. She said, famously, that "truth, justice and the forces of history are on our side."
Today, we shall see if America and Europe are on our side as well.
The writer is president of Pakistan.