For too long, U.S. foreign policy has supported individual Pakistani leaders and dictators at the expense of Pakistani civil society and democracy.  This needs to change, and you can help.

A group of independent  scholars, activists, and human rights advocates has authored The Call for a New U.S. Policy Towards Pakistan.  Freedom Forward is proud to be one of the participants in this effort.

To join the statement, click here.

To read the comprehensive statement, scroll down.

Dear President Obama and Members of Congress,

We urge you to end America’s “one-leader” approach to Pakistan, an approach that has long prioritized supporting individual Pakistani political leaders or dictators at the expense of Pakistani civil society and democracy.

For too long, Pakistani citizens have struggled under corrupt and undemocratic leaders who undermined the rule of law.  Of these leaders, the most damaging have been the military dictators who ruled Pakistan for more than half its existence.  Each of these dictators undermined Pakistani democracy while receiving U.S. aid for supporting U.S. foreign policy.

These dictators prioritized military budgets and personal wealth over the development of society. They encouraged and leveraged militant groups for their regional rivalries. They even expropriated land, making Pakistani military officers the largest landowning class in the country today.  Pakistan faces many problems as a result, including underdevelopment, terrorist attacks, and an insurgency in the tribal areas.

Pakistani citizens have repeatedly challenged this authoritarian legacy and sought accountable government and the rule of law.  In 2008, Pakistani voters peacefully rejected both Islamist parties as well as candidates tied to the outgoing dictator, Pervez Musharraf. In 2008 and 2009, hundreds of thousands participated in two major “Long Marches.”  These citizen-led movements challenged Musharraf’s dictatorship, as well as the corruption and manipulative actions of democratically-elected President Asif Zardari.

Unfortunately, Pakistani reformers have often faced a major obstacle when seeking to rebuild democracy:  U.S. foreign policy.  Successive U.S. administrations have repeatedly pursued a “one-leader” policy that prioritized supporting specific individual Pakistani leaders in exchange for their allegiance, no matter how much they undermined Pakistani democracy.

In the 1950s and 1960s, military dictator Ayub Khan received American aid for aligning with the U.S. during the Cold War.  Along the way, Khan weakened democratic forces at home and pursued policies that increased economic inequality.

In the 1980s, dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq received massive U.S. military and monetary support to build a Mujahideen resistance against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan.  Zia simultaneously used religion to subvert democratic institutions and legitimize undemocratic rule at home.

Most recently, Pervez Musharraf received billions of dollars from the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.  The Pakistani public eventually forced this last dictator from power, but his mismanagement of domestic infrastructure continues to plague the nation.  As a result, extended power shortages and blackouts undermine Pakistani commerce and are now a daily fact of life.

Elements of the U.S. “one-leader” policy have even continued today.  In 2009, hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis peacefully marched on Islamabad to call for a restoration of an independent judiciary and an end to current President Asif Zardari’s corruption.  Despite this promising movement for democracy, U.S. officials publicly focused concern on “reconciliation” between rival political leaders, instead of the fundamental civil society demands for reform.

In doing so, U.S. leaders inserted themselves into what should have been an internal process of democratic change.  Not only that, but the U.S. call for “reconciliation” between powerful political elites undercut the broader civil society push for government reform.

Pakistani ruling elites do bear significant responsibility for the current dilemmas and challenges that Pakistan faces.  However, one cannot ignore the history of U.S. government support for unelected and/or corrupt Pakistani leaders. These governments have received billions of dollars in short-sighted U.S. military aid, regardless of the impact of their policies on Pakistani society.  While individual dictators might have, on occasion, pursued policies that were of short-term benefit, the overall impact has been one of profound damage to the rule of law and accountable government.

Not only has this approach hurt Pakistanis, but it has hurt the U.S. as well.  The Bush administration squandered billions in U.S. tax dollars on the recently ousted military government of Pervez Musharraf.  It is now apparent that during Musharraf’s reign, Taliban-affiliated militants further entrenched themselves in Pakistan’s tribal areas.  Across the country, Pakistanis witnessed a horrific rise in terrorist attacks, leading to many civilian deaths.

Today, U.S. soldiers are waging war in Afghanistan against the very Taliban militias whose networks and predecessors once received support from Pakistani dictators backed by the U.S.  As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated at a press briefing on May 19th, 2009:

…I think that it is fair to say that our policy toward Pakistan over the last 30 years has been incoherent. I don’t know any other word to use.

We came in in the ’80s and helped to build up the Mujahideen to take on the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis were our partners in that. Their security service and their military were encouraged and funded by the United States to create the Mujahideen in order to go after the Soviet invasion and occupation.

The Soviet Union fell in 1989, and we basically said, thank you very much; we had all kinds of problems in terms of sanctions being imposed on the Pakistanis. Their democracy was not secure and was constantly at risk of and often being overtaken by the military, which stepped in when it appeared that democracy could not work.

And so I think that when we ask that question it is fair to apportion responsibility to the Pakistanis, but it’s also fair to ask ourselves what have we done and how have we done it over all of these years, and what role do we play in the situation that the Pakistanis currently confront.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s candor is a step in the right direction.  So too are efforts to prioritize development aid over military support, such as legislation introduced by U.S. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar.

However, the U.S. government needs to go further.

The Obama Administration should pledge that the U.S. will never again pursue a “one-leader” policy in Pakistan.  U.S. diplomatic and military support should not go towards subsidizing the very military and political elites who have stood in the way of Pakistani citizens’ demands.

Instead of aligning with individual Pakistani political leaders, the U.S. should support the goals of Pakistani civil society, which seeks to build functioning government institutions that are held accountable under the rule of law.  These civil society movements are profoundly healthy for the long-term development of Pakistani democracy.  As these movements continue to challenge Pakistani political elites, U.S. foreign policy should be one of noninterference.


Sahar Shafqat
Associate Professor of Political Science
St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Wajiha Ahmed
Masters in Law and Diplomacy
Fletcher School of International Affairs

Samad Khurram
Harvard University

Sanjeev Bery
Board of Directors, Freedom Forward

Sabahat Ashraf
Writer and Technologist
MS, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institue

Sabiha Basrai
Board of Directors, Freedom Forward

To join the statement, click here.

U.S. Signatories:

Nosheen Ali
Postdoctoral Researcher, Stanford University
Mountain View, CA

Brandon Fleet
US Navy Veteran
Bainbridge Island, WA

Nadia Latif
Assistant Professor, PhD Anthropology
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Imran Anwar
Entrepreneur / Media
Long Island, NY

Fawzia Afzal-Khan
Professor of English
Professor and Director of Women and Gender Studies
University Distinguished Scholar
Montclair State University
Ossining, NY

Adam Aly Nazerali
Riverside, CT

Tabitha Spence
Masters in Geography & Water Policy
Masters student/ Research Assistant
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ

Shazia Ahmad
New York, NY

Mariam Chughtai
Doctoral Candidate, Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

Jahanzeb Sherwani, Ph.D.
Adjunct Faculty, Carnegie Mellon University
Mountain View, CA

Hussnain Chaudhry
Ohio State University
Columbus, OH

Paul T. Christensen
Adjunct Associate Professor
Political Science Department, Boston College
Newton, MA

Mahwash Malik
Georgetown University Law
Boston, MA

Mahir Sheikh Nisar, JD
Lawyer, Human rights activist
Future Leaders of Pakistan (FLP)
New York, NY

Mara Ahmed
Pittsford, NY

Haseeb Ahmed
Undergradute student
Richmond, VA / Pakistan

Aurangzeb Haneef
Boston, MA

Priyanka Mitra
New York, NY

Faisal Idris
New York, NY

Madiha Tallat
Berkeley, CA

Walid Rahman
Riverside, CA

Zunaira Khalid
Chantilly, VA

Imran Aslam Bhutto
Biomedical Engineer/Student
Indiana University – Purdue University
Indianapolis, IN

Sabeen Hussain    Syed
Houston, TX

Michelle D. Beck-Hafeez
University of North Texas
Mother and Volunteer, World Affairs Council
Dallas, TX

Faseeha Sultan
Harvard University
Training Coordinator, Bridgewater Associates
Hamden, CT

Filza Sultan
Medical Student, Griffin Hospital
Hamden, CT

Zahid Siddique
Masters of Public Administration (University of Karachi)
Brooklyn, NY

Wajid Ali Syed
Freelance Producer
Washington, DC

Arsalan Ahmed
Software Practitioner
MS, Computer Science
Chicago, IL

Carol Duong
Portland, OR

Khalid Latif Khan
Ophthalmologist / MD FACS
President, Khalid L Khan MD PC
Private Practice/Self employed
Talladega, AL

Daniel Perell
Law Student/Master’s Degree
Charlottesville, VA

Ambreen Ali
Washington, DC

Mirza Akhtar Beg
Tuscaloosa, AL

Ashraf Rayani
Carrollton, TX

Maroof Usmani
Senior Network Manager
Snellville, GA

Imran Qureshi, MS
Manager, Learning & Development, Cisco Systems
Sunnyvale, CA

Mohammad Saeed
Student, Rice University
Houston, TX

Latif Nasser
Graduate Student, Harvard University
Boston, MA

Iftikhar Ahmed
Boston, MA

Mona Shah
Oakland, CA

Roshni Rustomji
Alameda, CA

Muhammad Hassan Sarwar
High School Senior
New York City, NY

Asif Chishti, MD
Masters in Public Administration
Harvard Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

Horst Klaus
Niagara Falls, NY

Cathy McGuire
Terre Haute, IN

Usman Akram
Finance Student UConn
North Haven, CT

Irfan Chagani
Software Developer
Atlanta, GA

Nabeel Khan
Worcester, MA

Pakistan Signatories:

Bilal Zahid
Lahore, Pakistan

Muhammad Ameen
Manager, Motorola
Islamabad, Pakistan

Hassan Tariq
Foundation for Advancement of Science and Technology
National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences
Lahore, Pakistan

Faisal Butt
Karachi, Pakistan

Saad Umair
Software Engineer
Islamabad, Pakistan

Momina Khawar
Islamabad, Pakistan

Maham Gillani
Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Mehar Farid Khan, MBA
Management Trainee, PIA
Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Khurram Aziz,
Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan

Ali Ibrahim
NUCES-FAST, Foundation for Advancement of Science and Technology
National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences
Lahore, Pakistan

Asad Jamal
PwC Pakistan
Islamabad, Pakistan

Sajid Sadeem
Lahore, Pakistan

Ahmed Hasan
Islamabad, Pakistan

Abeer Hamid
Engineer, FAST-NUCES
Foundation for Advancement of Science and Technology
National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences
Lahore, Pakistan

Samreen Shahbaz
Teacher and Writer
Lahore, Pakistan

Faraz Ahmed Shaikh
O-level student
Larkana, Sindh, Pakistan

Waleed Khizer Abbasi
Chartered Accountancy Student
Trainee Student, A.F.Ferguson (P.W.C Pakistan)
Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Adil Bawany
Karachi, Pakistan

Muhammad Asif Gul
Student, Department of International Relations
University of Peshawar    (M.Phil)
Peshawar, Pakistan

Naeem Khan Lodhi
Lahore, Pakistan

Waleed Farrukh
Lahore, Pakistan

Sardar Naveed Faraz
Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Rameez ul Haq Qureshi
Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Beenish Javed
Researcher / Journalist
Islamabad, Pakistan

Bushra Mujtaba
Islamabad, Pakistan

Abdullah Khan Durrani
Karachi, Pakistan

Saima Tariq
Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Aliza Ali
Lahore, Pakistan

Awais Masood
Lahore, Pakistan

Ali Azim
London School of Economics
Islamabad, Pakistan

Owais Khan
Islamabad, Pakistan

Fatima Hussain
Islamabad, Pakistan

International Signatories:

Enam Hasan
Journalist, Deutsche Welle
Bonn, Germany

Yawar Abbas, LLB
London, UK

Mohib Khurram
Student, London School of Economics
London, U.K.

Farhana Ashraf
London, U.K.
Doctor, Kings College London

Waqar Ahmed
MSC, Computer Science
Huts & Homes, Inc.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Falak Sher
Duisburg, Germany

Qasim Ali
Student, York University
Markham, Ontario, Canada

Ali Zaidi

Hamid Mukhtar
Daejeon, South Korea

Khurram Zahid
Gwynneville, Australia

Nomaan Butt
Toronto, Canada

Tamkin Sheikh Riaz
London, UK

Megha Jain
Hong Kong, HK

Aliasger Alanwar
Mumbai, India

Maurice Thibaux
Sydney, Australia

Sam Sakuma, MSc
London, UK

Yu Kyung Lee
Seoul, South Korea

Marie Belliveau
St. Catharines
Ontario, Canada

Muzaffar Ul-Hassan
Sales Manger
Oslo, Norway

Soban Akbar
Toronto, Canada

Frank Corcoran
Enniscorthy, Ireland

ic Institue