If anyone doubted it before, recent events have underscored the high stakes in the struggle for the future of Pakistan. Pakistan continues to be both a source of anxiety and a strategic resource in the fight against international terrorism and pursuit of regional stability.
As part of the ongoing effort to understand the dynamic politics and promote long-term objectives, Phyllis and I recently had the privilege of hosting former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Mrs. Musharraf at a small dinner in our home, along with leadership from the American Council for World Jewry and the Pakistani-American community. The attached photo shows former Mayor Ed Koch introducing President Musharraf.
Without making predictions, President Musharraf did indicate his continued interest in national politics in Pakistan. While his own political future may be uncertain, he is definitely a man willing to take risks. As he defines himself, he is “a man of war, but a man for peace.” His outreach to Israel and the Jewish community is well known, as is his record of engaging India beyond what many considered safe for a Muslim leader. Together we set a precedent, as part of continuing to engage top leaders around the world – and we began to produce some results.
Five years ago, after President Musharraf announced he would meet with the leadership of the American Jewish community under Council auspices, he allowed a public handshake between his foreign minister and Israel’s then-foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, during a meeting in Istanbul. At the United Nations, President Musharraf publicly greeted Prime Minister Sharon. Several American Pakistani leaders , as well as Pakistani artists traveling openly on Pakistani passports, traveled to Israel under Council auspices.
President Musharraf’s initiatives were well received at home, but – facing a crush of urgent challenges – the current Pakistani government has so far proven itself unwilling to take such risks or move to further explore the opening. On the international level, Pakistani diplomats continue an unabated anti-Israel policy, including leadership of the post-Goldstone assault on Israel at the UN. Even for a statesman of Musharraf’s stature, building bridges amid conflict was never easy or guaranteed. The Council is working to keep open a candid conversation with all sides of Pakistan’s political establishment, including among the influential Pakistani community in the United States. But that conversation will not proceed without effort from both sides.
The kinds of people-to-people exchanges we have conducted will be a critical complement to Washington’s new military package of $1.5 billion a year. Our past experience has shown this can pay off, with Pakistan and with other countries.
As you follow the news and policy debates raging in Washington and overseas, I urge you to bear in mind that Pakistan’s future will impact on us, and its fight against terror is our fight as well. The future of Pakistan hangs in the balance, and we can ensure that one option for Pakistanis is to widen the opening President Musharraf established with Israel and Jews. We should not agree with everything they say, and we should understand their limitations, but we should also realize where we have shared interests.