Candidates Speak Out On Pakistan Crisis

Police officers beat lawyers who were protesting against state of emergency imposed by the military ruler President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Monday, Nov. 5, 2007 in Lahore, Pakistan. AP Photo/K.M.Chaudary

Presidential candidates from both parties condemned the declaration of emergency rule in Pakistan but disagreed Monday on how to deal with one of the United States' few allies in the Muslim world.

Republicans expressed support for President Bush in dealing with Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, while Democrats blamed Bush for the unrest.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized the arrest of opposition leaders and suspension of the constitution in Pakistan, and she blamed the Bush administration for diverting resources to Iraq and away from the fight against terror on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

"We now find ourselves having to cope with yet another threatening challenge made worse by the failed policies of this president," the New York senator said.

In Iowa City, John Edwards said the United States should tie its aid to Pakistan to free elections and greater openness.

"Our leverage with the Pakistanis is the fact that we provide billions of dollars in assistance to them," Edwards said. "We should use that leverage to push Musharraf and the Pakistani government to do the right thing."

However, Republican Rudy Giuliani said he wouldn't urge the Bush administration to cut off financial aid to the Musharraf government.

"I would not second-guess any president on that because I think they're in the middle of a very difficult situation right now," Giuliani said in an interview with The Associated Press in New Hampshire.

The former New York mayor said it was important to both encourage democracy and keep the government together in Pakistan.

Fellow Republican Fred Thompson, a former Tennessee senator, said aid should continue, as did former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"The Pakistani military is working with us in key ways in Afghanistan and I would not end that effort," Romney said in Florida. "That's something critical to us."

It's possible that an aid-cutoff measure could come up in the Senate, where several of the candidates would vote on it, but no such action seems imminent.

Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd said, "I am firmly opposed to cutting off assistance to the government and people of Pakistan at this time - in fact I would argue that additional assistance might even be necessary in the coming days."

P.J. Crowley, a former Defense Department and White House official during the Clinton administration and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the Pakistan debate might be too nuanced for presidential politics.

"Whatever a candidate says at this point, certainly won't fit on a bumper sticker," he said.

Still, nearly everyone wanted to comment:

Democrat Bill Richardson, a former United Nations ambassador, said the Bush administration's approach to Musharraf has been a "policy without teeth." The New Mexico governor, campaigning in Des Moines, Iowa, said he would tell Musharraf that Pakistan would lose $10 billion in U.S. aide unless he restored democracy and rooted out terrorist elements inside his country.

Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as a Democratic presidential candidate, called Pakistan the "most dangerous and complex relationship we have." He said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" that the Bush administration should review its aid program and consider sending U.S. troops into Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden.

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign said the Bush administration had pursued "failed policies of promoting stability over democracy" in Pakistan. "We must start with a serious review of our investments in Pakistan to make sure that U.S. assistance is supporting democracy, not repression," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Monday.
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