I recently returned from my third trip to Pakistan, an important country at a strategic crossroads where the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia meet.
For the last seven years, the United States has not focused enough attention on Pakistan. Currently the United States spends more in one month in Iraq—about 12 billion dollars—than is has in the last five years in Pakistan.
With a population of more than 160 million people, Pakistan is more populous than Russia. It is also at the nexus of some of the most important security challenges the world faces: nuclear weapons, international terrorism, endemic poverty, and political reform. The remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda have used Pakistan as a staging ground for attacks in Afghanistan, as well as the rest of Pakistan. A State Department report released earlier this year found that terrorist attacks in Pakistan doubled from 2006 to 2007, and the number of Pakistanis killed in these attacks quadrupled.
I visited the park in Liaquat National Bagh where former Prime Minister Banazir Bhutto was killed last December. Bhutto's assassination came in the middle of a heated election campaign, where the main issue was discontent with how President Musharraf ruled the country. Elections were postponed due to Bhutto's assassination. Musharraf's party was soundly defeated in these elections, and the political parties that formed the new coalition government are still debating what moves they will make about Musharraf.
As Pakistan's leaders deal with the country's political future and face serious security problems, new economic challenges have emerged. Pakistan's inflation rate is currently at a 30 year high. Historic increases in food and gas prices are major problems for ordinary Pakistanis. And in April, in the city of Multan, riots broke out because of electricity shortages.
These challenges present and opportunity for the United States to make a shift from the Bush administration's current focus on a Freedom Agenda that narrowly looks at voting and elections and instead adopt a "prosperity agenda." A prosperity agenda would place a higher priority on the basic needs of people and countries like Pakistan. And by demonstrating to people in Pakistan that we are going to use our leadership to help them solve their problems, we are more likely to get support from Pakistan in our efforts to combat terrorist groups and stop the spread of nuclear weapons.