WASHINGTON: Pakistan took a lot of criticism in Saturday’s Republican US presidential debate, with a leading candidate saying it was nearly a failed state and another suggesting the United States cut its foreign aid to zero.
But it is unclear whether any of their ideas is likely to be imposed on a country that has nuclear weapons and whose cooperation is seen as vital to stabilising Afghanistan as the United States prepares to pull out from there by the end of 2014.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said Pakistan has multiple centres of power, including the relatively weak civilian leadership, the military and the powerful intelligence agency — the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate.
“The right way to deal withPakistan is to recognise that Pakistan is not a country, like other countries, with a strong political centre that you can go to and say, ‘Gee, can we come here, will you take care of this problem?’” Romney said.
“This is instead a nation which is close to being a failed state. I hope it doesn’t reach that point, but it’s really a fragile nation,” he said. Polls point to Romney as the Republican most likely among the party’s crop of candidates to defeat President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November 2012 US presidential election. The Republicans begin choosing their nominee in state contests beginning in January.
Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested that every country, including Pakistan, should see its US aid eliminated each year and then should convince the United States why it deserves any money at all.
“Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollars needs to go into those countries,” Perry said in response to a question about whether Islamabad was playing a double game with Washington.
“Pakistan is clearly sending us messages...that they don’t deserve our foreign aid...because they’re not being honest with us,” he added. “American soldiers’ lives are being put at jeopardy because of that country...and it’s time for us as a country to say no to foreign aid to countries that don’t support the United States of America,” he said. Businessman Herman Cain had difficulty offering a direct response when asked whether Pakistan was ultimately an ally or adversary. “There isn’t a clear answer as to whether or not Pakistan is a friend or foe,” Cain said.
Some Republican candidates argued that the United States has little choice but to nurture relations with Pakistan, citing the fact that it has nuclear arms and that it has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan.
“Pakistan must be a friend of the United States for the reason that Michele (Bachmann) outlined. Pakistan is a nuclear power,” said former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, referring to fellow Republican candidate Bachmann.
“It’s important for us, with a nuclear power with a very vast number of people in Pakistan who are radicalising, that we keep a solid and stable relationship and work through our difficulties,” he added. — Reuters
AFP adds: The republican White House hopefuls also slammed Obama’s handling of Iran and vowed a tougher line - even going to war - to stop Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons. “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon,” Romney said. “If you elect me as the next president, they will not.”
Herman Cain said, “the only way you can stop them is through economic means,” pledging tougher sanctions and support for domestic opposition groups. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich sided with Romney, calling for “maximum covert operations” against Iran’s suspect nuclear programme, “including taking out their scientists” and sabotage.
But Rick Santorum said the United States “should be working with Israel right now to do what they did in Syria, what they did in Iraq, which is take out that nuclear capability before the next explosion we hear in Iran is a nuclear one — and then the world changes.”
Republican Representative Ron Paul said it was “not worthwhile” to go to war to halt Iran’s suspect nuclear programme, and compared the heated US rhetoric against Tehran to the flawed case for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. “I’m afraid what’s going on right now is similar to the war propaganda that went on against Iraq. You know, they didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, and it was orchestrated,” he warned. Gingrich and Romney criticised Obama on Syria, saying he had done too little to help protesters there, with President Bashar al-Assad’s bloody crackdown on demonstrators claiming an estimated 3,500 lives so far. They both urged covert action in Syria.
Cain, Michele Bachmann, Santorum and Perry all said they would overturn Obama’s ban on harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists widely seen as torture. “If I was president I would be willing to use waterboarding,” said Bachmann, referring to a method of simulated drowning.
Perry agreed. “I don’t see it as torture,” he said. “I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique,” using the preferred term under Obama’s predecessor George W Bush. However Paul, bluntly declaring that “waterboarding is torture,” said: “It’s illegal under international law and under our law. It’s also immoral, and it’s also very impractical.”
Former US envoy to China Jon Huntsman sided with Paul, saying: “We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project, which include liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets, when we torture.”
Romney and Gingrich also took a hawkish line on Obama’s decision to order the slaying of US-born key al-Qaeda figure Anwar al-Awlaqi — agreeing it was the right thing to do — although Paul called into question its legality.
Asked about what are seen in Washington as Beijing’s unfair trade practices, Perry vowed a hard line and predicted that China’s communist government would “end up on the ash-heap of history” — Republican icon Ronald Reagan’s prediction about the Soviet Union.