The United States must take a “tough love” approach in Pakistan in the wake of today’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the country’s candidate for prime minister who espoused secular democracy, said Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chairwoman of a House Armed Services Committee panel with oversight of strategic nuclear security.
Pakistan has been a key player in U.S. efforts to stabilize and reconstruct neighboring Afghanistan and its status as a nuclear power significantly heightens international concern that internal political upheaval could jeopardize security over its weapons arsenal.
“This is very, very bad,” Tauscher said from her Alamo home by telephone this morning. “This is a time for tough love. We must be significantly engaged with our allies to ensure that the vulnerability of the Pakistani people isn’t leveraged by others, whether they are outside terrorists or other people inside the country who don’t share the same goals of democracy and freedom.”
Tauscher she contacted Pentagon officials shortly after hearing of the assassination and sought repeated reassurance that the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has retained the “full care, custody and control of its nuclear weapons and that the people in charge of the program are apolitical and above reproach.”
But the congresswoman expressed deep concern about continued U.S. reliance on Musharraf in the fight against terrorism and the security of Pakistan’s nuclear complex.
She called Musharraf a U.S. ally born out of geographic convenience after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but who took power in a military coup and seeks to remain in power indefinitely.
It was Musharraf, she said, who pardoned Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb who turned around and sold nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and others. Pakistan’s failure to prosecute Khan precluded a full investigation and disclosure of the details of the massive security breach, Tauscher said.
“We cannot continually find ourselves associated by convenience with people like Musharraf,” Tauscher said. “He was someone we had chosen to embrace because of the geography (neighbor to Afghanistan) and he chose to embrace us, but to a certain extent, it was a relationship of convenience to expedite the recovery of Afghanistan.
“We have to make clear that Musharraf’s quest of limitless power is not in the best interests of the Pakistani people and that his means of doing it is degrading the stability of the country and the region.”
On a related item, those of you on-line with an interest in what’s happening in Pakistan may be interested in a story on the Poynter Institute website about how to find bloggers inside the country. (Poynter is an organization that provides professional training and assistance to journalists.) Most of the news accounts about the assassination and the reaction in the Pakistan is coming from outside the country because of restrictions on journalists, writes Poynter blogger Amy Gahran.
NOTE: Photo is of Rep. Ellen Tauscher as it appears on her web site at http://www.house.gov/tauscher/about.shtml