Stop Placating Pakistan

The Bush administration has looked the other way as its ally in the war on terror veers from democracy.

SUPPOSE THAT a supreme court justice in an unstable but pro-American country becomes unwilling to take his cues from the authoritarian government. He orders its intelligence services to answer charges that they are holding 100 citizens who have disappeared. He is widely believed to oppose a presidential scheme to get around a constitutional ban on running for reelection. The government suspends the justice and places him under house arrest. Street protests erupt, and government riot police using tear gas quell demonstrators, haul away opposition leaders and smash their way into a TV station that covers the controversy.

How does the U.S. government react? With few exceptions, in the bad old days of the Cold War, the United States turned a blind eye to such thuggery by friendly strongmen in Third World countries so long as they remained reliably anti-communist.

That was then. President Bush now argues that radical Islam showed that where freedom and opportunity were squelched — as in much of the Middle East — extremism would flourish. “We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people,” Bush declared in his second inaugural address. “America’s belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed.”

Yet Bush is failing to live up to his own standard, acting instead very much under Cold War rules. The above example is from Pakistan last week. President Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup more than seven years ago, continues to squelch his democratic domestic opposition and appears determined to engineer his reelection as president while retaining his post as army chief, in violation of the constitution. Yet so long as he mouths anti-terrorism bromides, Washington seems loath to mention his anti-democratic behavior — even as it shells out billions in aid to Pakistan each year. This flawed notion that there is no alternative to the friendly dictator, even when he is behaving like, well, a dictator, is the same logic that led the U.S. to cozy up to such anti-communist leaders as Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua and the shah of Iran .

The Bush administration’s unwillingness to distance itself from Musharraf, or to at least express disapproval of his behavior, is shortsighted in the extreme. To sacrifice U.S. values to fight terrorism is to lose the broader struggle.

Source: LA Times


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