You are president of Pakistan. Your country faces seemingly intractable and simultaneous crises. You rightly believe that an existential threat to your nation is posed by the insurgencies led by religious zealots and extremists.
Your nation suffers from an extended economic crisis and you are dependent on billions in foreign loans to prevent bankruptcy and to purchase food and energy that are in critically short supply for your people.
Your army is not properly equipped and American generals would say ill prepared for counter-insurgency operations in the Frontier Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The US Congress is especially irate because, of the $10 billion in American support funds for the army provided over the past decade, the bulk went to the Ministry of Finance not the military where they were intended. That was not your fault. However you are still the president. Your praiseworthy efforts to improve relations with your neighbors have worked in Afghanistan but where security conditions continue to deteriorate as Kabul remains incapable of governing and suffered a dangerous setback with India over the Mumbai attacks last November.
Your attempt to form a coalition government with opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N disintegrated over reappointing the chief judge dismissed by then President Pervez Musharraf in November 2007. After appointing new PPP leadership of both houses of Parliament, your challenge to Nawaz’s political base in Punjab after the High Court disqualified him and his brother Shahbaz from holding office proved unsuccessful. And now that the lawyers’ long march led by Nawaz has led to restoration of Judge Iftikhar Chaudhry, you will almost certainly face a parliamentary move to revoke the constitution’s 17th amendment and article 58 2 (B) that would turn the presidency into a titular office.
All this would make a great adventure movie or even the basis for the next season of “24” were the stakes not so huge and the outcomes so critical to the future security of the region and much of the globe.
You also know better than anyone how Pakistan arrived at this junction. Pakistan’s national psyche and ideology remain ambivalent over relations with the United States, India and Islam. The liberal and democratic traditions from your British heritage have unhappily co-existed and collided with an inherent conservatism and distrust if not animus towards India. There has been more than a flirtation with fundamentalist Islam and the influence of Wahabi Saudi Arabia. You see the United States as a friend and ally in your fight for survival while Nawaz has formed common cause with right wing and more fundamentalist elements. Meanwhile charges of corruption continue to contaminate the political atmosphere.
You are deeply and tragically aware of the life and death stakes involved. Nawaz tried to kill General Pervez Musharraf in an ill-fated attempt to prevent Musharraf’s plane from landing resulting in a military coup in 1999. The Sharifs were convicted of aircraft high jacking and sentenced to life imprisonment commuted to exile in Saudi Arabia. You were imprisoned for a decade and you understandably blame Musharraf for the death of your wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, by not providing sufficient security.
The fundamental question now is how as president can you rally your nation and people to deliver promise and avoid peril from these crises, threats and dangers, many of which such as the insurgencies are worsening. The good news is that the Pakistani people crave strong leadership and a credible vision for the future. The good news is that the Obama administration understands the crucial importance of Pakistan and the need to support it and to support you. But the administration knows that Congress will resist spending more or any money in Pakistan if the government cannot show it is capable of using those resources wisely and effectively.
Great leaders arise when the times demand them. Convincing sectarian and ultra conservative elements of your society including your major political rivals of the dangers of extremism is unlikely to happen. On the other hand, sixty-two years of fighting for democracy cannot be wasted.
Make the case for promise. Rally the people and rally the government. Set out your agenda for prosperity and peace through partnership. And go to the people with admissions of where you have succeeded in your short span of six months as president, where you have not and what you ask of them and in turn what they can expect of you.
The Obama strategy review for Afghanistan and Pakistan will center on the crucial importance of Pakistan. That is a wise and accurate judgment. But for the US and Pakistan to succeed, it must be promise and not peril that emerges from the current and threatening conditions in your great nation.
Harlan K. Ullman is a member of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisors Group and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the National Defense University. This essay has been syndicated by UPI.