In Perspective

The Center for American Progress' Brian Katulis is one of our key actually serious experts rising on the scene, and conveniently enough he's just been in Pakistan for three weeks talking to a wide variety of players. His commentary on the current situation is worth paying attention to:

All too often in recent years the United States has looked to elections in other countries as the primary indication for success or failure in a country's progress toward political reform. The US has also become singularly focused on individual leaders like Bhutto. Her murder is a tragedy, and Musharraf has called for a three-day mourning period. As the world remembers her contributions, it should also keep her record in perspective. Under Bhutto, Pakistan provided support to the Taliban in the 1990s. Some observers note that Bhutto was not the saviour of democracy she claimed to be, including Bhutto's niece in a recent, biting op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. And it was also in part on Bhutto's watch that Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father Pakistan's nuclear programme, built an international network that led to dangerous transfers of nuclear technology.

As Pakistan enters an even more complicated period, US policymakers should resist the temptation to see the situation in simplistic, black-and-white, freedom-versus-terror terms. Past experience in Pakistan and elsewhere demonstrates that putting our hopes on a single leader or a single election rarely makes Americans safer or advances stability and prosperity in other countries.

I think that's well-said. You can find more Katulis here and also here: "Earlier this month in Lahore, an official in a leading opposition party complained to me about U.S. policy's almost singular approach and obsession with individual leaders rather than institutions and the whole society: 'Why does President Bush say, "Mr. Musharraf is my friend?" Why doesn't he say, "Pakistan is our friend"?'" To put that question in a non-rhetorical context, I think it reflects the legacy of imperialism -- it's an effort to approximate the concept of "indirect rule" by cultivating mutually beneficial relationships between the US and individual foreign political leaders rather than mutually beneficial relationships between peoples.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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