The following is an edited transcript of my conversation with Eliot Spitzer yesterday:
Eliot Spitzer: The question of the moment is: Who actually runs Pakistan?
Fareed Zakaria: The answer to that is pretty clear. It is not the democratically- elected government. It is not the president. It is the military.
I’ll give you one example. The Prime Minister of Pakistan gave a speech and a press conference the other day in which he accused the United States of causing all the problems in the country. The Prime Minister denied any knowledge of bin Laden's whereabouts. I have it from Pakistani sources that his talking points were not written by him and were not written by the Foreign Ministry. They were written for the Prime Minister by the military.
So you literally have a situation where the democratically elected government of Pakistan mouths the talking points that are provided to it by the military.
From our (America's) perspective, is that good or bad? Do we want civilian control, which is perhaps subject to the whims of an electorate that can be swung wildly back and forth given the rhetoric of the moment? Or do we want the stability of the military that perhaps is aligned with our interests?
We've taken the latter view. We've taken the view that at least the military is the only functioning institution in Pakistan and we have to do business with them.
Here's the problem: What we learned in Egypt and Tunisia is that by aligning ourselves with these repressive regimes - with repressive military dictatorships - you get a little bit of short-term stability, but in the long run, you're creating a poisonous anti-Americanism and dysfunction in the society.
So for our purposes, if we want a healthy Pakistan that is not home to jihadists, and one where we can have a normal relationship, we need to support the civilian government, not the military.
You wrote a very potent article in The Washington Post just today saying it is time for us, the United States, to force the Pakistanis to switch power back to the civilian side of the ledger. How can we do that?
We are giving Pakistan billions of dollars of aid. We will give them close to $10 billion of aid over the next three or four years. And this is a poor country.
The the Kerry-Lugar bill, which is the bill that provides most of the civilian aid, actually says that we are meant to guarantee that there's civilian control over the military and that the military is cooperating in the fight against terrorism. The Secretary of State has to report to Congress on this. Neither of those is true but we keep pretending it is.
So are you basically saying it's time to actually enforce the terms of this bill?
I think it is. I think what we have to tell the Pakistanis is that they have a six-month window, or something like that, and after that point the certification will become real, which means the Secretary of State would have to certify that civilians are not in control of the military and that the military is not cooperating. Then I think aid would have to be withheld.
Now the other side of the argument - and there are folks in Congress who are saying let's cut the aid - is if we withdraw the aid (and we tried this about 10, 15 years ago), we merely force Pakistan into the arms of China and other regimes who are waiting to accept them with an open embrace.
What would happen if we were to cut them off? They would harbor al Qaeda terrorists in their territory? They already do that. They would cooperate with other countries? They're already telling the Chinese that they can take a look at the helicopter that went down. So everything that we feared that they could do, they're already doing.
So we're getting the short end of the stick and giving them $20 billion. Why not at least either save the money or get them to do what they're supposed to be doing as a true ally?
Precisely. Now there was one part, though, I think is important to point out: The point here is not to stiff Pakistan. The point is we want to have a healthy relationship with a healthy Pakistan.
Pakistan is half the size of the entire Arab world. It is six times larger in population than Afghanistan. And it is the center of jihadism in the world right now.
So we need to get that society cleaned up and we need to have a better relationship. It's about not supporting a military junta in Pakistan, which is going to create dysfunctions for Pakistan and dysfunctions for our relationship.
But here is the toughest question perhaps: Is the military under any circumstances willing to cede power to the civilian government in Pakistan?
If you look at places like Turkey, Indonesia and now perhaps Egypt, the military never starts out willing to do that - of course not. But a combination of internal pressure and external pressure does make a difference.
In the Turkish case, the most important thing that happened is Turkish democrats pushed from the inside and the Europeans pushed from the outside leading the Turkish military to give up power. I wonder if you could imagine a similar dynamic in Pakistan. But it requires that Pakistan's moderates and liberals also get some spine. It's not going to be enough if just the United States pushes.
Can we help both give those moderates additional support both rhetorically and in any other way? And do we have a relationship with their military sufficient to say to them, “Look, guys, you don't want to actually be the government”?
They don't seem to view us as being well wishers, to be honest with you. They don't trust us. And I think part of that has to do with our relationship with India. So I think what we have to do in this circumstance is worry a little bit less about the sensitivities of the Pakistanis and the Pakistani military, and do the right thing. Do what's right strategically; do what's right politically; support the moderates; but if they take umbrage at some of the things we're saying, tough.