Twilight of the Dictators: NYT

Twilight of the Dictators: A Chance for Pakistan — and the U.S.
Editorial, February 20, 2008, New York Times

After years of American enabling and billions in American aid, Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf, was — to put it delicately — trounced in Monday’s parliamentary elections. The results are much better than the United States could hope for, and more than President Bush deserved after overinvesting in the former general and his anti-democratic excesses.

The White House has long insisted that there was no choice but to look the other way as Mr. Musharraf jailed journalists and lawyers, dismissed the Supreme Court and declared emergency rule. Islamist extremists, we were told, would win any fair democratic fight.

Instead, even with a rigged system, the moderates managed to win. Now the question is whether the Bush administration can take this opportunity and develop a sensible policy that focuses both on building stable democratic institutions in Pakistan and winning popular support for combating Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Even with all that American money — and the advice of an American public relations firm — Mr. Musharraf could not overcome a tidal wave of popular contempt. His party lost overwhelmingly to two moderate opposition parties: the Pakistan Peoples Party of the assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Muslim League-N of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistan now faces a period of uncertainty as all the players jockey for position. Mr. Musharraf has rejected calls to step aside as president, but Parliament could yet force him out. That’s a decision for Pakistan’s elected representatives to make — without Washington’s intervention.

President Bush must quickly reach out to Pakistan’s newly elected parliamentary leaders, many of whom resent the United States for its uncritical support of the former general. Mr. Bush could calm some of their anger by publicly warning to Mr. Musharraf that the United States will not tolerate any further political meddling.

The Bush administration must also encourage Pakistan’s coup-prone military to work with the new parliamentary leaders, making clear that continued military aid will in part be conditioned on their respect for democracy. Mr. Musharraf’s successor as army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, deserves credit for ensuring that the military did not interfere in the elections. We hope that he continues that sound course.

Make no mistake, Mr. Musharraf’s support for the war on terrorism was never as unstinting as Washington claimed. Al Qaeda and the Taliban have found far too comfortable a safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Still, persuading Pakistan’s new civilian leaders to sign on to the fight is likely to prove even more difficult.

On Tuesday, some of those politicians were already talking about the need for more dialogue and less military confrontation with the extremists. The Bush administration will have to work hard to persuade them — and the Pakistani people — that this is not just Washington’s fight. These extremists are also a direct threat to Pakistan and its hopes for democracy.

Washington can start by sending a clear message that it cares about Pakistan’s people and that it will do a lot more to build up its schools, courts and political parties. The lesson of the last six years — and Mr. Musharraf’s defeat — is undeniable: without popular support, there will be no stability in Pakistan and no hope of defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban.


Anonymous said…
A great editorial. The biggest impediment to a transition to true democracy at this time is Musharaf and the staunch support he is obviously still receiving from the Bush administration. There seems to be alot of pressure on Zardari to turn his back on nawaz and seeka coalition instead with the Q league. This would be a huge mistake. I think the americans are now playing a truely evil role. Despite all the rigging that was possible, both pre and peri-poll, the Q league has been wipeed out. Instead of respecting the will of the people and embracing the obvious maturity of the pakistani electorate, the americans are once again intent on surpressing their voice and trying to keep Musharaf in the seat of power. Ambassador Paterson has apparently been meeting with Zardari and exerting pressure on him to reach a compromise with the PML-Q. The americans need to back off and let the process evolve on its own. It boils my blood to hear them lecture the rest of the world on the benefits of a democratic process, only to trample on it once it starts to take root. The words "why do they hate us so much?" rings in my ears. It has nothing to do with the so called liberties we apparently envy the american s has everything to do with the liberties that they would steal away from under our noses and the hypocrisy of their words and actions!

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