Friday, September 05, 2008

Countdowns: Fundraising and Pakistan

Clocks are ticking in different parts of the world, and how their alarms go off – or don’t go off – could shape future policy in Afghanistan.

First, of course, is the clock measuring the days – 60 – to the presidential election. The trial runs are over; the tickets are sold, the starting gates are already open and the candidates in full stride. CNN noted that in the 24 hours between Governor Palin’s speech Wednesday and Senator McCain’s speech Thursday, the Democratic ticket took in $10 million – a one day record.

In his acceptance speech, McCain said that as president he would not give US taxpayer dollars to countries that are unfriendly or oppose US policies. Should he be successful in his quest, one of the first countries (beside North Korea) that will test McCain’s promise is Pakistan.

Last March it looked as if Pakistan would finally escape its political morass as a newly elected coalition of the two largest parties took control. But it was not to be. Pakistan has been thrown into turmoil again during the past two to three weeks. First the coalition government fell in mid August when Nawaz Sharif’s PLM-N party quit the five-month old ruling coalition that had forced President Pervez Musharraf to resign or face impeachment. Sharif accuses his rival, Asif Ali Zardari, Benezir Bhutto’s widower and successor as leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, of failing to fulfill a promise to re-instate judges fired earlier by Musharraf. Zardari’s PPP is expected to form a new coalition with other smaller parties, after which Zardan is expected to become the new president.

All this has played out against congressional efforts to block foreign military aid of $230 million the Bush administration wants to release to Islamabad to upgrade its counter-terrorist capabilities. The aid is earmarked for F-16 upgrades, but those in Congress opposing the aid suspect that the Pakistanis will use the money to upgrade capabilities that offset India’s air force rather than terrorist strengths. This is the second time since 1990 that deals involving Pakistan’s F-16 acquisition programs have come under fire – then it was for continuing its quest for nuclear weapons. The Congress cannot force a halt to the sale, but if Bush goes ahead with the purchase, it would get McCain off a potentially early hot spot;

No word from the other camp – perhaps because they hope the Pakistanis will get back on track between now an November 4th.

Whoever wins, however, will have to deal with Islamabad as it is key to what happens in Afghanistan, whether we count it as friend or foe.

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