GUEST POST WRITTEN BY
Asif Ali Zardari
Mr. Zardari served as president of Pakistan from 2008 to 2013. He is now sitting chairman of the People’s Pakistani Party.
The United States has invested billions of dollars in Pakistan over the past 15 years. While this high price has bought greater stability and reduced threat from the extremists who killed my wife, Benazir Bhutto, and countless others, I recognize that the well of goodwill from which we can draw is not endless. At the same time, Pakistan remains a potential flashpoint for our region and the world. The newly minted U.S. administration has acknowledged our crucial role in fighting extremism, even as it promises to review military aid across the board. While I support this reappraisal, to ensure a stable, successful state, Pakistan must increase—not decrease–cooperation with military and commercial allies as well as carry more of our own weight.
The United States should continue to be our partner. Indeed, U.S. support in the fight against terror is not merely a matter of goodwill; it is self-interest. The terrorists who attack our people here are the same who attack Americans and other innocents abroad. Over the past several decades, the U.S. has provided us many tools: fighter jets, weapons and high-level training. But this is a fight that goes beyond mere military action; it is a war of ideas. During my tenure, we chose to confront terrorism and seek help from our partners, even as many of my opponents pushed to avoid and downplay the issue. Today, my party stands as the only organization that is unambiguous in his fight against terrorism and violent extremism—offering a comprehensive strategy that encompasses coordinated civilian leadership and action. And despite a backslide in transparency and democratic values under Nawaz Sharif, foundations built during this early pivot have yielded tangible results.
Sadly, many in Congress fail to recognize these hard-won victories, cutting off hundreds of millions of dollars in reimbursements to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), a U.S. program for costs incurred in supporting counter-terrorist operations. Congress has also blocked sales of needed F-16s. The signal from the U.S. here is as important as the substance; there is a clear breach of faith in our partnership. Meanwhile, extremists are slipping over the borders, undermining the whole effort and sacrifice. One must only look to recent attacks in a simmering Afghanistan to see where this trajectory leads us. Further, Pakistani civilians are war-weary and feel abandoned, their sacrifices undermined. This is perhaps the most dangerous result, as community partnerships are critical in a fight against non-state actors. To prevent unnecessary backsliding and the tragic costs that follow, we must renew our common goals and craft a streamlined strategy that galvanizes both the military and civilians in this war of ideas.
We also hope that the U.S. will continue to develop Pakistan’s economy, which is key to building public confidence in our institutions and in the promise of a better tomorrow. Indeed, Pakistan has been one of the greatest success stories in foreign aid, with in-country civilian assistance programs standing among of the most fruitful U.S. aid operations to date. Some of the many triumphs of the U.S.-Pakistani partnership include the addition of 1,750 megawatts to our power grid, the building of 1,000 km of roads, many of which connect to Afghanistan, and repatriation of millions of refugees from Waziristan. The U.S. has also contributed to significant advancement in infrastructure, agriculture and energy. And as a result of U.S. development initiatives, there has been astounding macroeconomic growth. After a half-decade of growth, stability has been restored in the Pakistani economy. Home to the world’s second-fastest-growing stock exchange, Pakistan’s economy is poised for an even greater advancement in 2017. Not only have these factors helped to meet the basic needs of millions of impoverished men, women and children; they have contributed significantly to our nation’s stability and security, particularly as the employment remains steady in the face of a tremendous youth bulge. The opportunities for partnership and collaboration beyond the military realm are boundless, holding the promise to bring the whole world forward.
Finally, we hope that the U.S. will invest its faith in us. In 2013, we witnessed our nation’s first successful democratic election, and I personally initiated the first peaceful transition of power from one elected civilian government to another. Today, my party and I continue to fight for the creation of truly democratic institutions even as the current prime minister acts with autocratic leanings. In these early stages of democratic growth, we recognize that there is room for improvement, and my party is dedicated to refining our electoral processes and political participation through official channels. We seek your support in these civilian efforts.
In addition to tremendous promise in democratic and civil society growth, Pakistan is also home to one of the world’s fastest-growing middle classes. With its literacy rate increasing over 250% since 2008, the largest educational growth in any country to date, Pakistan also has the seventh-largest pool of scientists and engineers in the globe. Unfortunately, under President Obama, we did not see a palpable diplomatic commitment to our country’s holistic growth and success. While there were comprehensive discussions over counterterrorism missions and fruitful aid operations, there was little dialogue on grand strategy, where both military and civil society leaders were present at the table. We hope that, going forward, the United States will foster this mission to make Pakistan a country defined by its industry, ingenuity and democratic progress, and keep the lines of communication open.
Our citizens, just like yours, are peace-loving people, seeking nothing more than stability, freedom and hope for our children. And as the new administration considers its policy options and financial commitments abroad, Pakistan will loom large not only because of the threats we fight together, but also because of the opportunities to spread shared democratic values that we embody in standing shoulder to shoulder. From our side, my party and I will continue to push our beloved nation toward a safer, more democratic future. And I hope that the promising conversations I have had with leading figures in the U.S. government herald a renewed commitment to our partnership.