When will the U.S. hold the Pakistani president accountable for his abuse of power?
May 26, 2007: Los Angeles Times
FOR DECADES during the Cold War, the United States supported reliably anti-communist dictators from the shah of Iran to Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua to Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. This was a terrible mistake for which the U.S., and the world, paid dearly.
Yet the United States seems to be slipping back into just this sort of blind and bifurcated Cold War mentality. Replace the words "reliably anti-communist" with "reliable U.S. ally in the war on terror," and despair at the Bush administration's willingness to excuse heinous repression from Egypt to Saudi Arabia to Azerbaijan. Worst of all is its policy toward Pakistan, where the administration refuses to distance the U.S. from the increasingly errant autocrat Pervez Musharraf.
Nearly eight years in a presidency whose powers he has steadily expanded have made Musharraf no more of a democrat than he was when he ousted an elected government in a 1999 military coup. He has since manipulated elections, circumvented the constitution to allow himself to maintain the dual posts of president and army chief of staff and struck unholy alliances with hard-line Islamists in Parliament while assuring his U.S. backers that he was cracking down on them. He has collected $8 billion to $10 billion in direct U.S. aid for the war on terror (and perhaps almost as much in covert aid) while losing ground to the Taliban in the tribal areas that are nominally under Islamabad's control. Terrified that Musharraf might be assassinated or overthrown by a fundamentalist Islamic regime that would inherit a nuclear arsenal, Washington has given the general the benefit of every doubt.
Now Musharraf has sacked a Supreme Court justice who appeared hostile to his scheme to rig himself a third term as president and generalissimo. Even for Pakistan's nascent civil society, this was the last straw. This month, lawyers, rights activists and ordinary citizens demonstrated in the streets against Musharraf. Their demand? The rule of law. Yet the U.S. has been virtually mute.
The U.S. needs to show that it has a long-term commitment to the Pakistani people and an abiding interest in promoting peace, human dignity and economic development in the region. It must make clear that it will support whatever democratically chosen leader emerges in Pakistan. And as long as Musharraf resists the discipline of democracy, the United States must not pretend to give him unqualified support.
Boston Globe EDITORIAL: May 26, 2007
Pakistan's political hurricane
PAKISTAN AND its president, Pervez Musharraf, are passing through turbulence. The causes may be traced to clashes between religious extremists and civil society; conflicts with autonomous regions or with Afghanistan and India; and Musharraf's autocratic style of governing. But if policy makers in the Bush administration have learned anything from their past blunders, they will refrain from imposing their own parochial policy ideas upon countries about which they are egregiously ignorant.
The need for humility is particularly acute in Pakistan's case, and not only because intelligence specialists believe Osama bin Laden and Taliban fighters enjoy safe havens in the frontier provinces of Pakistan. Any American impulse to lecture Pakistanis -- or Musharraf in particular -- about democratization or counter terrorism must be tempered by a recognition that Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state.
Pakistan is a tinderbox, and Washington must not make wishful assumptions about it. Under previous civilian governments, and with obvious military complicity, the nuclear engineer A.Q. Khan perpetrated the most dangerous acts of proliferation. If the wrong forces come to power in Pakistan, President Bush's misreadings of Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and last summer's war in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah may seem minor mistakes by comparison.
Musharraf has provoked anger in several quarters: from lawyers appalled at his suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry; from tribal members in Baluchistan furious at the army's killing of a revered leader; from some tribal leaders who resent a regional warlord who killed hundreds of pro-Taliban Uzbek militants with backing from the Pakistani military; and from moderate Muslims who worry that nothing has been done to punish Islamist radicals who recently kidnapped an alleged brothel owner and destroyed music and video stores in Islamabad.
Ideally, Musharraf would enlarge his base of support and choose between his roles of army chief and head of state. He could acquire greater legitimacy and reduce his reliance on extremists if he formed an electoral partnership with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, with whom he has conducted on-again, off-again talks. With her help, Musharraf could seek re election by national and local legislators after fresh elections rather than choosing the less democratic option of asking the current legislatures to renew his presidential mandate.
But these are matters for Pakistanis to decide, without lectures from an administration that has been no more competent at promoting democratic change abroad than at coping with the aftermath of a hurricane.