Pak­istan on the brink

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

No one knows for cer­tain where nu­clear-armed Pak­istan is headed. Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf stepped closer to­ward the ledge Nov. 5 fol­low­ing a “state-of-emer­gency” dec­la­ra­tion by im­pris­on­ing thou­sands of po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­saries, sack­ing the supreme court and ar­rest­ing lawyers and judges who refuse a loy­alty oath. That fol­lows a si­lenc­ing of the me­dia, the post­pone­ment of Jan­uary elec­tions and the im­po­si­tion of a heavy po­lice and mil­i­tary street pres­ence to in­tim­i­date op­po­nents.

In essence, Gen. Mushar­raf is play­ing his re­main­ing strengths in a mil­i­tary uni­form in a bid to re­tain power, keenly aware that his co­op­er­a­tion in the war on ter­ror is in­dis­pens­able.

Since Gen. Mushar­raf seized power in 1999, mil­i­tary of­fi­cers’ ex­ten­sive pres­ence in gov­ern­ment and in the dol­ing of fa­vors have worn on the mil­i­tary’s rep­u­ta­tion. It is not clear how much longer the Pak­istani pub­lic will coun­te­nance Islamabad’s ex­ten­sive politi­ciza­tion. Mean­while, in­ter­na­tion­ally, Gen. Mushar­raf clearly be­lieves that he has called the West’s bluff, and so far, there are dan­ger­ously few signs that he is wrong.

A sense of con­fu­sion in U.S. pol­icy emerged last week. Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice voiced her dis­ap­point­ment on Nov. 4 and called for a re­view of U.S. se­cu­rity as­sis­tance to Pak­istan in what seemed like a warn­ing to Gen. Mushar­raf to stop the dic­ta­to­rial back­slid­ing. On Nov. 5, she also called for Gen. Mushar­raf to hold the Jan­uary elec­tions that he promised. Then, in­ten­tion­ally or not, Sec- re­tary of De­fense Robert Gates all but de­clared any U.S. se­cu­rity re­view to be tooth­less. “Pak­istan is a coun­try of great strate­gic im­por­tance to the United States and a key part­ner in the war on ter­ror,” Mr. Gates said from China, urg­ing a re­turn to “law-based, con­sti­tu­tional and demo­cratic rule as soon as pos­si­ble.” But any de­fense re­view will be “mind­ful to not un­der­mine on-go­ing coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts.”

In re­al­ity, Gen. Mushar­raf has al­ready un­der­mined U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts. The ground­work was laid in decades of of­fi­cial en­cour­age­ment of rad­i­cal Is­lamist opin­ion. Un­der the gen­eral him­self, a seeno-evil pol­icy re­gard­ing the intelligence ser­vices’ co­op­er­a­tion with rad­i­cals has reigned. Now, this week’s “sec­ond coup” drags U.S. as­sis­tance through a new layer of mud. The gen­eral seem­ingly can­not dis­tin­guish be­tween threats to his con­tin­ued oc­cu­pa­tion of the ex­ec­u­tive of­fices and gen­uine threats to the se­cu­rity of Pak­istan. Or can he?

With po­lice tear-gassing and beat­ing lawyers in the streets, West­ern diplo­mats must at­tempt to walk Gen. Mushar­raf back from the ledge. Un­less and un­til a post-Mushar­raf path is de­vised, care­ful ne­go­ti­a­tion is the chief op­tion for this nu­clear-armed and au­to­cratic gov­ern­ment.

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