So, what should the United States do about this situation? On one hand, US foreign policy and the Bush Doctrine in particular places a heavy emphasis on domestic regime type. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote:
Our experience of this new world leads us to conclude that the fundamental character of regimes matters more today than the international distribution of power. Insisting otherwise is imprudent and impractical. The goal of our statecraft is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. Attempting to draw neat, clean lines between our security interests and our democratic ideals does not reflect the reality of today's world. Supporting the growth of democratic institutions in all nations is not some moralistic flight of fancy; it is the only realistic response to our present challenges.On the other hand, Pakistan is very important to US strategic interests, as a secular Muslim society (one possessing nuclear weapons), as a strategic outpost in a volatile region, and in so many other ways. Pushing too hard for democratization could destabilize the country, either forcing Musharraf to seek support from radical Islamists or even, perhaps, bringing the radicals to power as moderates seek to work with the Islamists against the Pakistani government.
How can the US pressure Pakistan to move away from military/authoritarian rule and towards democracy, but in a way that does not jeopardize the stability of the state? Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), last week, released a very interesting policy statement calling for a fundamental change in US-Pakistani relations. Biden's recommendations?
1. The U.S. must triple non-security aid, to $1.5 billion annually for at least a decade. This aid would be unconditioned. It would be the U.S.’s pledge to the Pakistani people. Instead of funding military hardware, it would build schools, clinics, and roads.2. The U.S. must condition security aid on performance. We should base our security aid on clear results. The U.S. is now spending well over $1 billion annually, and it’s not clear we’re getting our money’s worth.3. The U.S. must help Pakistan enjoy a “democracy dividend.” The first year of democratic rule should bring an additional $1 billion – above the $1.5 billion non-security aid baseline. Sen. Biden supports tying future non-security aid – again, above the guaranteed baseline – to Pakistan’s progress in developing democratic institutions and meeting good-governance norms.4. The U.S. must engage the Pakistani people, not just their rulers. This will involve everything from improved public diplomacy and educational exchanges to high impact projects that actually change people’s lives.
There's a lot to like here. First, the separation of security aid from non-security. Pakistan is far too important to allow the state to collapse or fall to radical Islamists; maintaining unconditional support for development aid would be a vital step in ensuring the stability of the regime. Security aid, however, should be tied to benchmarks, both political and strategic. If Musharraf does not allow free parliamentary elections in January, along with the lifting of the state of emergency in sufficient time to ensure viable competition, security aid should be curtailed. Additionally, security aid should be tied to Pakistani efforts at rooting out al Qaeda and other radical groups operating in the Pakistani hinterlands.
A policy like the one Biden recommends is eminently realistic. It balances a real commitment to democracy and democratic values with strategic concerns, and it pressures Pakistan in the right ways by separating development aid from security aid. A stable, democratic Pakistan is more than just a strategic asset in a troubled region; it is a beacon to others and, along with Turkey and Indonesia, a signal that Islamic societies can be vibrant democracies.