The Dictator Is Wearing New Clothes – But Pakistan Is Still Naked
The Dictator Is Wearing New Clothes – But Pakistan Is Still Naked
Pakistan’s Mass Deportation of Afghans Poses Risks to Regional Stability
Pakistan’s Mass Deportation of Afghans Poses Risks to Regional Stability
Op-Ed / Asia 3 minutes

The Dictator Is Wearing New Clothes – But Pakistan Is Still Naked

Pervez Musharraf may have taken off his uniform, but he is still not wearing the clothes of a democrat. U.S. policy-makers who understand that only democracy can bring stability to Pakistan must realize actions mean more than a new suit.

Since imposing martial law on Nov. 3, Mr. Musharraf has imprisoned thousands of opposition and civil society leaders, shut down independent media outlets and sacked the judges of the country's highest court. The order he issued as chief of the army replaced the constitution and specifically suspended freedoms of movement, speech, association, assembly, habeas corpus and even protection of property.

Mr. Musharraf did not impose martial law because of the threat of terrorists – unless the definition of the word “terrorist” now includes judges. I was in Pakistan the week before the declaration, and it was clear then that Mr. Musharraf would not accept the imminent Supreme Court ruling against the constitutionality of his re-election as President. He opted for martial law simply to remain in power.

After shredding the constitution, Mr. Musharraf deposed members of the bench who refused to swear an oath of allegiance to his regime. He has also named a partisan caretaker government and declined to appoint a broad-based election commission. Under these conditions, it would be fruitless to monitor the Jan. 8 election when, without fundamental changes, it is already rigged.

His Western allies should see his actions for what they are: a leader determined to hold on to power by any means. If the U.S. wants to avoid deepening anti-American sentiment in this critical region, its leaders must recognize that Mr. Musharraf is not an irreplaceable ally in the war on terror and that the choice in Pakistan is to support its people and its institutions. That choice is democracy.

After six years and $10-billion in U.S. aid, Mr. Musharraf has failed to reduce terrorism. Madrassas such as the Red Mosque in Islamabad continue to recruit and train future jihadists. Taliban leaders, according to the U.S. military, are based in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar. Mr. Musharraf struck deals with Islamic extremists in the North-West Frontier Province, and Pakistani extremists have organized openly in the region bordering Afghanistan.

The war on terror is not served by a leader linked to religious extremist parties who has most of the population now opposed to him – 80 per cent, according to a September poll from the International Republican Institute. Moderate, secular and pro-Western parties with broad popular support not only exist in Pakistan, but they offer a much better chance of tackling extremism. Mr. Musharraf's marginalization of moderate voices has only given more space to Islamic radicals. An inclusive and representative government, with the democratic legitimacy gained through free and fair elections, would be a more accountable and efficient ally against global terror.

U.S. President George Bush has acknowledged the importance of elections and the end of martial law, and the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad has shown a welcome tendency to identify herself with victims of Mr. Musharraf's repression. But neither the President nor the Secretaries of Defence and State have spoken up for the checks and balances provided by an independent judiciary or demanded a restoration of the constitution and civil liberties, all essential to establishing the level playing field necessary for credible elections.

There is no assurance that the promised Dec. 16 lifting of martial law will mean the full restoration of constitutional liberties and an independent judiciary. There is no mention of a neutral caretaker government or a balanced electoral commission. The parties still are unable to access the promised online scanning of 25 million names added to the rolls.

The U.S. must not certify a rigged election. Instead, the Bush administration and Congress should send a clear signal to Pakistan's government and to its people by initiating a series of graduated sanctions against the regime. The suspension of high-level military talks and of non-counterterrorism weapons sales and military aid, conditioned on the restoration of full constitutional freedom, might help put Pakistan back on the democratic path and avoid even greater instability in a part of the world where chaos brings huge risks for America.

If the U.S. fails to respond effectively to Mr. Musharraf's coup, the world will not only question Mr. Musharraf's commitment to democracy but America's as well.

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