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For Pakistan, no turning back from reform

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)
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By Asif Ali Zardari
Friday, January 15, 2010

When I was elected president more than a year ago, Pakistan was in grave condition, strained by terrorism and a ravaged economy. Countering the effects of a decade of dictatorship requires bold actions, some of which are unpopular. I am working with Parliament to run a country, not a political campaign. The goal of our democratic government is to implement policies that will dramatically improve the lives of Pakistanis. In time, good policies will become good politics.

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Our economic crisis demanded unprecedented response. On taxes, education, agriculture and energy, we have shown that we must adapt, reform and become self-sufficient. Terrorists do not want Pakistan to succeed. They want to distract us from preparing for a stable and prosperous future. After a suicide bomber killed 75 people in northwestern Pakistan this month, U.S. media reports noted that "the militants' objective is to sow terror among the general population in hopes of putting more political pressure on President Asif Ali Zardari's government to back down." But militants underestimate us. Just as our people refuse to be terrorized, our government refuses to be derailed from its course of fiscal responsibility, social accountability and financial transparency.

Restoring economic health has required raising fuel prices and taxes. These moves are understandably unpopular. Stringent terms had to be accepted to partner with the International Monetary Fund, but we understood the condition of our economy and the global economy and acted decisively.

The war against terrorism has cost Pakistan not just in lives but also in economic terms, freezing international investment and diverting priorities from social and other sectors. Despite constant challenges on multiple fronts, we took the political hits and stuck with reform. The IMF has even praised "the efforts being made by the authorities to further stabilize the economy, to advance structural reform and lay the foundations for high and sustainable growth. The early signs of recovery, declining inflation, and the improved external position are encouraging." Pakistan met IMF criteria last month to receive the "fourth tranche," or $1.2 billion, of its loan funding -- no easy feat during a global recession. Corrupt governments don't reach this level of IMF partnership. The World Bank, European Union and United States have all applauded our accomplishments. This praise may be little reported, but it's far more important than the chimera of polls.

Pakistan's economic resurrection has been the product, primarily, of our own sweat and blood. The return of democracy was negotiated and carried out by the intercession of the West. Pakistanis know that expediency has at times caused the world's extended democracies to support dictatorships, as happened after Sept. 11, 2001. The West has a moral responsibility to ensure that our democratic transition continues. Long-term moral values must prevail. If the community of developed democratic nations had, after our last democratic election, crafted an innovative development plan with the scope and vision of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II, much greater economic, political and military stability would already have been achieved. Some in my country disapprove of efforts to increase the power and fiscal responsibility of our provinces and the integrity of our institutions. Those who found comfort with dictators have resisted change. Pakistan tried it their way -- and endured catastrophe. We intend to build a new Pakistan using long-term solutions based on sound fiscal management.

Now, some Western reports suggest the Pakistani military does not support the policies of our democratic government. This is not true. Not only is our military courageously battling extremists in Swat and Waziristan, and succeeding, but our troops also are supporting the country's democratic transition and adherence to our Constitution. Some in Pakistan question our international alliances because they disapprove of our allies' actions, such as Thursday's unilateral U.S. drone attack against militants in Waziristan. We should all understand that concern. But we are fighting for our lives, and Pakistan's policies cannot be based solely on what is popular. When Franklin Roosevelt threw a lifeline to Britain with the Lend-Lease program, few Americans supported challenging the Nazis. Harry Truman had less than 15 percent support among Americans to rebuild Europe. They did what was right, not what was popular, and so will we.

History has shown the difference between expedient policies and the long-term goals of true statesmen. When the history of our time is written, Pakistan's decisions will be seen as a turning point in containing international terrorism. We are building a functioning society and economy. In the end, these sometime unpopular steps will create a Pakistan that sucks the oxygen from the fire of terrorism. Those who are counting on Pakistan to back off the fight -- militarily and economically -- underestimate my country and me.

The writer is president of Pakistan.



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