Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf this week began to release hundreds of political prisoners and vowed to hang up his army uniform within days, though he refused to end the emergency rule he declared early this month. A Musharraf aide described the moves as a “goodwill gesture” to ensure a level playing field in national elections scheduled for Jan. 8. But opposition leaders said holding an election under emergency rule, during which free assembly has been banned and non-government broadcasters silenced, would be a sham.
As part of his crackdown, Musharraf arrested Supreme Court judges who had questioned the legality of his bid to seek another term. But this week, the court, stocked with judges picked by Musharraf, dismissed the challenges to Musharraf’s rule, virtually guaranteeing him another term.
President Bush, in an interview with ABC News, signaled that Musharraf was not in danger of losing U.S. support. “I think he is truly somebody who believes in democracy,” Bush said, describing Musharraf as “a man of his word.”
In truth, Musharraf has made a mockery of Bush’s dream of promoting democracy, said the Columbus, Ohio, Dispatch in an editorial. But Bush has the tools to force free elections. The U.S. has handed $10 billion in aid to Pakistan since 9/11. Faced with a cutoff of that largess, Musharraf would be “pressured until he realizes he has no choice but to allow free elections.”
Let’s get real, said Paul Moorcraft in The Washington Times. “The immediate alternative to Gen. Musharraf is not democracy but anarchy and/or rule by Islamic extremists.” It’s far from clear that any of Musharraf’s would-be successors would be able to do as much to keep Islamic extremists in check, to say nothing about keeping control over the nation’s nuclear weapons. All the “ritual tut-tutting” from the West doesn’t change the scary reality on the ground.
That’s why the U.S. should be drawing up military contingencies, said Frederick W. Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon in The New York Times. If Pakistan’s government collapses, al Qaida sympathizers in tribal areas could spin out of control, or Islamic extremists in the army could try to seize power. “We must face a fact: The U.S. simply could not stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss.”