June 11, 2007: New York Times
If Gen. Pervez Musharraf were the democratic leader he indignantly insists he is, he would not be so busy threatening independent news outlets, arresting hundreds of opposition politicians and berating parliamentary leaders and ministers from his own party for insufficient loyalty to his arbitrary and widely unpopular policies.
But nobody takes General Musharraf's democratic claims seriously anymore, except for the Bush administration, which has put itself in the embarrassing position of propping up the Muslim world's most powerful military dictator as an essential ally in its half-baked campaign to promote democracy throughout the Muslim world. Washington needs to disentangle America, quickly, from the general's damaging embrace.
Ever since his high-handed dismissal of the country's independent-minded chief justice in March, the general has been busily digging himself into an ever deeper political hole.
Last week, he issued a decree giving himself increased powers to shut down independent television channels, but under mounting pressure he withdrew it over the weekend. More than 300 local political leaders in Punjab were arrested in an effort to head off protests against the decree. Still, thousands of lawyers, journalists and political activists gathered to protest the firing, the censorship and the general's continued rule. Pakistan seems to be rapidly approaching a critical turning point, with a choice between intensified repression and instability or an orderly transition back to democratic rule.
Were Washington now to begin distancing itself from the general, it would greatly encourage civic-minded Pakistanis to step up the pressure for free national elections. That's a process the chief justice was trying to make possible when he was fired. And that is what Pakistan's last two democratically elected leaders — Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif — are both campaigning for from abroad. The United States should be supporting these efforts, not continuing to make excuses for General Musharraf.
Pakistan has its share of violent Islamic extremists, military and civilian. But they are clearly in the minority. The best hope for diluting their political, and geopolitical, influence lies not in heating the pressure cooker of repression, but in promoting the earliest possible democratic elections.
Chicago Tribune: June 11, 2007
Trouble in Pakistan
Since 2001, poverty has plunged by 10 percent in Pakistan, according to the CIA's World Factbook. The country has privatized its banking sector, increased access to global markets and bolstered government investment in economic development. The welcome result: Pakistan's gross domestic product grew by 6 to 8 percent a year from 2004 to 2006.
The economic news is mostly good. Yet President Pervez Musharraf faces rising anger from citizens who have grown tired of his government's tyranny and inefficiency. Street protests have been growing, especially since March, when Musharraf suspended Iftikhar Chaudhry, the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court.
When Musharraf took power in 1999, in a military coup that ousted an elected government, he promised to clean up corruption, limit his own power and liberalize the press. He has failed on all three counts.
According to Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index, Pakistan ranks near the bottom, 142nd most corrupt out of 163 countries. Musharraf has repeatedly broken promises to limit his term in office. And as protests against the government have multiplied in the three months since he suspended Chaudhry, the government has done its best to muzzle the press, essentially banning live coverage of opposition rallies and live political talk shows while raising fines for violations to prohibitive levels.
This creates a problem for the U.S. in a region where it has more than enough problems. Musharraf has been a U.S. ally against Al Qaeda (if at times an uncertain one.) If he were not in power, the world would face the risk of extreme elements running the nuclear-armed Pakistan.
But Musharraf's strong-arm routine has been going on for 7 1/2 years, and it is building resentment in his nation -- a welcome development for extremist elements there.
Musharraf needs to give his people a voice in running their nation. That means ensuring that the country's next elections, expected later this year, are fair, free and open, devoid of violence and intimidation. That means giving them a vote, soon, on whether he should stay in power.
Granted, that's not an easy task. Pakistan's six-decade history as a sovereign nation has been dominated by military coups and multiple rewritings of its constitution. Democracy has been little more than a rumor based on a myth based on a fairy tale.
There is the danger that if Musharraf is removed from office, a new government would not be as friendly to the U.S. as he has been. But his rule by force is creating more potential for violence, and stands in glaring contradiction to the U.S. campaign to promote democracy in the region. Pakistan is on a dangerous path.