TIP SHEET: U.Va. Expert Addresses Role of U.S. in Current Pakistan Crisis

Nov. 18, 2007 — As Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, faces continually eroding support, the United States should go farther than it has in pressuring him to hold democratic elections, says John E. Echeverri-Gent, associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia.

“Initial U.S. responses to the crisis as well as the recent history of the Bush Administration's involvement with Pakistan demonstrate that the U.S. has been very reluctant to sanction Musharraf,” Echeverri-Gent says. “The effort to promote an agreement between Musharraf and Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto is increasingly untenable, despite recent American efforts to revive it.

“There is too much mistrust between Musharraf and Bhutto, not to mention with the lawyers and other political parties.”

As protests from civil society have become more widespread, Echeverri-Gent adds, stronger demands have been placed on Musharraf.

“The minimum U.S. position seems to be that there be elections and that they be credible, which at least means the state of emergency must end before the elections,” he says.

“If Musharraf is able to make enough concessions to make the elections scheduled for January 9 appear legitimate, and if Musharraf retains solid support of the military, then I think the U.S. will stick with him.  However, if the protests persist and if support for Musharraf both in Pakistani society and the military weaken, the U.S. is keeping its options open.  This is apparent from the visit of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte’s visit to Pakistan on November 16-17.”

Echeverri-Gent notes that while Musharraf has low and dwindling popularity among the Pakistanis generally, it will be the military that ultimately decides whether he stays or goes.

“The U.S. has a long history of supporting the Pakistan military even when it was detrimental to democracy in the country,” Echeverri-Gent says. “The very substantial U.S. aid to the Pakistani military – including $5.6 billion in cash transfers through the Coalition Support Fund –  should give the U.S. some leverage.

“The U.S. is planning to increase its military presence from the current level of 400 troops by sending in special forces to work directly with Pakistani troops combating the militants. General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, Deputy Chief of the Army and Musharraf's likely replacement, seems favorably disposed to U.S. military cooperation.”

The seriousness of the crisis cannot be overstated, Echeverri-Gent says. “Because Pakistan is a frontline of the fight against terrorism and because it controls nuclear weapons, the outcome of the situation will have repercussions throughout the world.”

To discuss the crisis in Pakistan with Echeverri-Gent, contact either Brevy Cannon  at (434) 243-0368 or brevy@virginia.edu or Jeff Hanna at (434) 243-2070 or jhanna@virginia.edu.