During a long conference call with reporters earlier about the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and its impact on Pakistani stability and international relations, Council on Foreign Relations Pakistan expert Daniel Markey expressed concern about the Obama campaign’s posture on Pakistan.
“Some of the candidates have in the past — the most significant one was when Barack Obama made his comments about his willingness to go into Pakistan if necessary if the Pakistanis wouldn’t act to clean out Al Qaeda. And that made waves back in Pakistan and certainly complicated diplomacy with the government of Pakistan. It made Musharraf’s life more difficult because it appeared that the United States and somebody speaking as a potential president of the United States… The way it was played back in Pakistan was that they were threatening to invade. And I think my concern would be with the current political campaign cycle in full swing is that you could get some of the candidates saying things again that looked threatening or menacing.”
From the candidates’ statements reacting to this morning’s news of Bhutto’s assassination, the one offered by Bill Richardson seems most likely to meet Markey’s definition of unhelpful meddling.
From Richardson’s statement:
It is in the interests of the US that there be a democratic Pakistan that relentlessly hunts down terrorists. Musharraf has failed, and his attempts to cling to power are destabilizing his country. He must go.”
UPDATE: The Obama campaign sends over the following exchange between Bhutto and a questioner at C.F.R. event in August.
QUESTIONER: You may have covered that, what I was going to ask you next, but let me try it anyhow.
We had quite an interesting, and indeed still are, mini-debate here politically between two — initially two of the Democratic aspirants for presidents, and it spread now across party lines. And Barack Obama kicked it off by saying, “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” That’s a direct quote from a recent speech of his. What is your reaction to that?
BHUTTO: Well, I wouldn’t like the United States to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty with unauthorized military operations. But the issue that I would like to stress is that Barack Obama also said, if Pakistan won’t act. And that’s the critical issue, that the government has to act. And the government has to act to protect Pakistan’s own serenity and integrity, its own respect, and to understand that if it creates a vacuum, then others aren’t going to just twiddle their thumbs while militants freely move across the border.
I think General Musharraf did the right thing recently in admitting that militants are using our soil, but he said the army has nothing to do with it. But nonetheless, the issue for me is that we cannot cede parts of Pakistani territory to anybody; not just the Taliban, to anybody. That in Pakistan we have one army, one police, one constitution, one government. We cannot allow parallel armies, parallel militias, parallel laws and parallel command structures. Today it’s not just the intelligence services, who were previously called a state within a state. Today it’s the militants who are becoming yet another little state within the state, and this is leading some people to say that Pakistan is on the slippery slope of being called a failed state. But this is a crisis for Pakistan, that unless we deal with the extremists and the terrorists, our entire state could founder.
Terrorism is loathsome everywhere it strikes, but today’s bombing really sticks in the craw. Someone evil in that region just silenced a voice that could have done a lot of good for that country.”