Per­ilous Pak­istan

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

As he painted him­self the hero in a news con­fer­ence on Nov. 11, Pak­istani Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf gave no hint of when emer­gency rule would be lifted. In fact, he de­liv­ered only one piece of real news: Pak­istan’s par­lia­men­tary elec­tions would be held in Jan­uary af­ter all, not Fe­bru­ary as as­serted two weeks ago. In the process, Gen. Mushar­raf con­firmed many of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s worst sus­pi­cions about the present cri­sis. He some­how ac­tu­ally man­aged to deepen the dilemma for Amer­i­can pol­icy-mak­ers, which must wend a pre­car­i­ous path be­tween the strong­man’s van­ity and the chaos which a regime col­lapse or Is­lamist as­cen­dancy would un­doubt­edly bring.

This month’s crack­down has landed an iron fist not on a U.S. en­emy but on the moder­ates and democrats with whom the United States has no quarrel. Couched in the rhetoric of an­titer­ror­ism and an­ti­sub­ver­sion, Gen. Mushar­raf has in­stead as­saulted peo­ple who are fa­vor­ably dis­posed to us. Were Gen. Mushar­raf truly se­ri­ous about an­titer­ror­ism, he would ar­rest the many rad­i­cal Is­lamist mil­i­tants who live openly in Pe­shawar and other ma­jor cities. The re­al­ity is that he is not se­ri­ous. He prefers to play both sides in an in­creas­ingly pre­car­i­ous bal­anc­ing act.

In­deed, Gen. Mushar­raf’s re­cent ac­tions seem to be all about regime preser­va­tion. Veer­ing on the one hand be­tween the United States and its an­titer­ror im­per­a­tives, and on the other, rad­i­cal Is­lamists in the pop­u­la­tion and the intelligence ser- vices, Gen. Mushar­raf’s ul­ti­mate con­cern is his own grip on power.

Right now, it is clear that un­less he de­clares an im­me­di­ate or near-im­me­di­ate end to emer­gency rule, the in­tegrity of Jan­uary’s elec­tions will be se­ri­ously com­pro­mised. Gen. Mushar­raf has sim­ply not been will­ing to even ad­dress the ques­tion of how elec­tions could be mean­ing­ful in a cli­mate of dras­ti­cally cur­tailed free speech and free as­so­ci­a­tion. The op­po­si­tion has raised it, as it should, and with good jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Be­nazir Bhutto said that such elec­tions would be “dif­fi­cult,” la­bel­ing yes­ter­day’s news “a pos­i­tive step.” She must speak pos­i­tively if any chance of a com­pro­mise gov­ern­ment is pos­si­ble. But at this point, a sham elec­tion ap­pears likely.

Put sim­ply, it is clear that fair elec­tions are nec­es­sary to ratchet Pak­istan’s po­lit­i­cal ten­sions down the sev­eral notches which Gen. Mushar­raf has raised them. This may prove to be a case where the United States’ supreme in­ter­est in Pak­istan — sta­bil­ity, the se­cu­rity of the coun­try’s nu­clear weapons and the pur­suit of ter­ror­ists — co­in­cide more than ever with in­creased plu­ral­ism. More and more does Gen. Mushar­raf seem to con­sti­tute a prob­lem for Pak­istan’s sta­bil­ity, and less does he seem to be the ready so­lu­tion he was deemed to be in 1999 and again af­ter the Septem­ber 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks. At times Gen. Mushar­raf al­most seems to be dar­ing the United States to de­cide whether he is more of a threat to Pak­istani se­cu­rity than the al­ter­na­tives.

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