Pakistan launched a crackdown on opposition politicians, courts, and the media over the weekend after President Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule and suspended the country’s constitution. Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, said his latest move was necessary to give him powers to fight rising Islamic extremism, but an adviser said Musharraf only acted after learning that Pakistan’s Supreme Court was going to rule against his bid to stay on as president. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. was outraged by Musharraf’s tactic, and would reconsider a $150-million-a-month aid program.
What the commentators said
Cutting off aid seems like the obvious thing to do, said USA Today in an editorial, but punishing Musharraf could backfire. There’s no denying the “danger and foolishness of his moves.” But punishing and isolating him “risks adding a spark to a tinderbox country where people are deeply anti-American and where the Islamic extremists, though still a small minority, are gaining ground.” The U.S. will have to settle for pressuring Musharraf to “roll back” his crackdown and inch back toward democracy.
Coddling Musharraf won’t do any good, said Ahmed Rashid in The Washington Post (free registration). He’s bullying Pakistan’s “democratic elite” instead of the Taliban and al Qaida—obviously the man is so concerned about his own “political survival” that he doesn’t care if he’s plunging the country “even more deeply into chaos.” Only a decisive and united response from the international community against “Musharraf’s second coup” can bring Pakistan back from the brink.
It’s possible to both condemn Musharraf and continue working with him, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. That’s what former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, newly returned from exile, has done by calling Musharraf’s emergency declaration the “blackest day” in the country’s history, but “pointedly” said nothing about ending “power-sharing” talks with him. The Bush administration should follow her lead by “loudly and publicly” urging Musharraf to restore democracy. That’s the best way to stand by Pakistan’s moderate majority.
Washington won’t punish Musharraf, said The Christian Science Monitor in an editorial. It would rather have a strongman than a democracy in charge of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
We still can't "confidently dispose of the possibility of a successful Islamist coup and a nuclear-armed Talibanistan," said Stanley Kurtz in National Review Online.