Not Too Risky to Push Democracy in Pakistan, Congressmen Say

By Penny Starr | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - Two members of the House Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, which heard testimony Wednesday about U.S. and Pakistan relations in the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, said they did not think it was too risky for the U.S. to promote democracy in that country.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is currently led by Pervez Musharraf, who originally took power in a bloodless 1999 military coup. Musharraf was later affirmed in power for a five-year term by a 2002 referendum in which he took 97.5 percent of the vote and in which, according to the State Department, independent observers found "evidence of widespread fraud and coerced voting."

In October, Musharraf won a second five-year term in an election held in Pakistan's national and regional assemblies that was boycotted by opposition parties. As the only candidate, he won 671 of the 685 ballots cast, or 98 percent.

Although Musharraf has allied Pakistan with the United States in the war on terror, a recent poll showed that Pakistanis -- 97 percent of whom are Muslims -- think the U.S. military presence in Asia and Afghanistan is a greater threat to their country than al Qaeda.

The poll said 72 percent of Pakistanis view the U.S. military presence in Asia as a "critical threat" to the "vital interests of Pakistan."

Cybercast News Service
asked committee members Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) whether they believed it was too risky for the U.S. to promote democracy in Pakistan.

"No," said Wilson. "I have learned on my visits there they have had a 60-year fitful effort at establishing democracy. There are levels of political party development that I was pleasantly surprised to find out. Indeed, they do have severe challenges on conducting fair and honest elections.

"But progressively they are making progress and the development of the political party system - which I will believe will be as watchdogs, one party against the other, or it may be multiple political parties - will result in a more democratic system," Wilson added. (Listen to Audio)

Carnahan said "it absolutely is" a good thing to promote democracy in Pakistan.

"It is something that, in terms of observers, before, during and after the elections, the extent that the U.S. and the international community can weigh in there to help ensure that, I think that is an important role for us in this critical time there, when there is so much unrest and uncertainty there," he said. (Listen to Audio)

Cybercast News Service
also asked Carnahan and Wilson if they thought it was too risky for the U.S. to consider unilateral action against al Qaeda, and possibly Osama bin Laden, in Pakistan.

Wilson said it's important to continue to collaborate with the Pakistani government. (Listen to Audio)

Carnahan told Cybercast News Service that despite concerns about Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the U.S. should continue to work with the government. (Listen to Audio)

Witnesses at the hearing included Christine Fair, senior political scientist with the Rand Corporation; Ashley Tellis, senior associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center.

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