U.S. should halt Pakistan aid until order returns

By Freedom New Mexico

Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has declared a state of emergency, tantamount to martial law, which suspends the constitution, suspends the right to assemble in public, the right to free speech, the right of free movement, and the right of detainees to be informed of their offense and be given access to lawyers.

That last is ironic, since lawyers were a predominant segment of the 1,500 people arrested; thus many of the best lawyers are already in jail.

The government has closed all 50 TV stations not run by the government, imposed self-censorship on the print media, and appointed pliant new supreme court justices.

President Musharraf claimed the emergency was caused by Islamist and jihadist extremists, and there is little question they have been notably active in Pakistan. But it’s difficult not to believe he was also motivated by concern for his own grip on the levers of power.

Last March the Pakistani supreme court ruled the constitution forbade an active-duty military person from serving as president. Gen. Musharraf was army chief of staff in 1999 when he seized power in a coup, and he has remained in that position. Back in March, Musharraf essentially fired the supreme court, but later it reconvened. Most observers expected a ruling challenging Musharraf’s legitimacy.

He still has not resigned from the army and was re-elected in recent presidential elections in part because opposition parties boycotted the election.

All this complicates matters for the United States, which has sent at least $10 billion in aid to Pakistan since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Even though the Pakistani government and its secret police (ISI) had supported the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Gen. Musharraf quickly assessed the correlation of forces and decided to cast his lot with the United States in the pending “war on terror.”

And Pakistan has indeed cooperated with the United States extensively since then.

Unfortunately, Musharraf’s regime has been unable to accomplish what the U.S. most wants from it: confronting and neutralizing the al-Qaida, Taliban and other jihadist bases and training camps in the wild North-West Provinces bordering Afghanistan.

The failure comes despite having sent 100,000 troops to the area (suffering 1,000 killed, 3,000 wounded and almost 300 captured). Intelligence reports suggest that al-Qaida has reconstituted itself in these areas.

The Bush administration has justified its interventionist foreign policy as a way to promote democracy and human rights. Thus when it has turned a blind eye (at least in public) to Gen. Musharraf’s more authoritarian moves it has looked like a hypocrite. Word is that U.S. officials pleaded in private with Gen. Musharraf not to declare this state of emergency, but to no avail.

Despite its strategic location, Pakistan would matter less if it didn’t have nuclear weapons. But it does.

The United States until now has made support for Pakistan more personal — centered on Gen. Musharraf — than institutional — justified on the basis of Pakistan’s strategic importance regardless of who runs the government.

Now the U.S. would do well to inform Musharraf that unless the state of emergency is short-lived and elections scheduled for January are not postponed, the flow of aid to the regime will dry up and disappear. The dangers here are less than one might think.

Radical Islamists can carry out dramatic attacks, but the bulk of the opposition to Musharraf comes not from extremists but from moderate, secular forces in the country, as the popularity of returned former prime minister Benazir Bhutto demonstrates. Thus the likelihood of radical Islamists coming to power is remote.

U.S. aid should likewise not be used to buttress an increasingly authoritarian ruler who seems more interested in his own personal power than in restoring stability and prosperity to Pakistan or defeating the jihadists.