Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bhutto, Bush, and Pakistan

Benazir Bhutto had some stern words for the Bush administration today:

NOV. 3, 2007, will be remembered as the blackest day in the history of Pakistan. Let us be perfectly clear: Pakistan is a military dictatorship. Last Saturday, Gen. Pervez Musharraf removed all pretense of a transition to democracy by conducting what was in effect yet another extraconstitutional coup.

In doing so he endangered the viability of Pakistan as an independent state. He presented the country’s democratic forces with a tough decision — acquiesce to the brutality of the dictatorship or take over the streets and show the world where the people of Pakistan really stand.

General Musharraf also presented the democratic world — and especially the countries of the West — with a question. Will they back up their democratic rhetoric with concrete action, or will they once again back down in the face of his bluff?
The United States, Britain and much of the West have always said the right things about democracy in Pakistan and around the world. I recall the words of President Bush in his second inaugural address when he said: “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”

The United States alone has given the Musharraf government more than $10 billion in aid since 2001. We do not know exactly where or how this money has been spent, but it is clear that it has not brought about the defeat of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, nor succeeded in capturing Osama bin Laden, nor has it broken the opium trade. It certainly has not succeeded in improving the quality of life of the children and families of Pakistan.

The United States can promote democracy — which is the only way to truly contain extremism and terrorism — by telling General Musharraf that it does not accept martial law, and that it expects him to conduct free, fair, impartial and internationally monitored elections within 60 days under a reconstituted election commission. He should be given that choice: democracy or dictatorship with isolation.
It is dangerous to stand up to a military dictatorship, but more dangerous not to. The moment has come for the Western democracies to show us in their actions, and not just in their rhetoric, which side they are on.

Bhutto's prescription for democracy in Pakistan is absolutely correct. But the Bush administration lacks the credibility to tell Musharraf that the United States does not accept martial law -- although it's true, as Amanda Terkel points out, that the United States "never suspended the ... Constitution; instead, it interpreted the document so broadly as to provide all the powers they desired. ..."

Really, the Bush administration has no good choices in this matter. Withholding all economic and military aid from Pakistan until Musharraf restores the Constitution and the judicial system will make the U.S. government look extremely foolish and will not impress anyone. Continuing to supply Pakistan with economic and military aid -- which is what the Bush administration is doing -- might keep us on Musharraf's good side, but it will do nothing to reduce terrorism or achieve stability. Which should be obvious to anyone of even average intelligence.

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