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Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s grip on power grew more precarious this week when the leading opposition leader, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, called on him to resign and began seeking an alliance with the general’s other political opponents. Bhutto publicly called off negotiations to share power with Musharraf after he placed her under house arrest and rounded up thousands of her supporters to prevent a mass rally for democracy. Tensions in the country have been rising to a fever pitch since Musharraf—who also serves as president—suspended the constitution, disbanded the Supreme Court, and declared emergency rule two weeks ago. “Pakistan and Musharraf cannot coexist,” Bhutto said. “He must go. My dialogue with him is over.”
Bhutto said she was reaching out to her democratic rival, exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and to leaders of two major Islamic religious parties to unite in their opposition to Musharraf’s continued rule.
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Under increasing pressure from the Bush administration, Musharraf made a few concessions. He said he would relinquish his role as army chief by the end of the month and hold elections in January. But the elections, he insisted, would be held under the emergency rule restrictions, which ban independent media broadcasts and political rallies.
What the editorials said
Musharraf has to go, said The Economist. For years, the West looked on him as a benevolent strongman—not perfect, perhaps, but a “relatively safe pair of hands” to be in charge of a nuclear state. But he’s now become a full-fledged tyrant, locking up judges and peaceful protestors. He’s betting that America and the West won’t cut off all support out of fear that if his government collapsed, Pakistan would be easy prey for an Islamist takeover. But that’s sheer blackmail.
The U.S. should call his bluff, said The Washington Post. Pakistan will defeat Muslim extremism only by evolving into a moderate, secular society. Musharraf’s actions “have destroyed any chance that he could play a leading role in that process.”
What the columnists said
Besides, his commitment to fighting al Qaida was always questionable, said Daniel Twining in The Weekly Standard. Under Musharraf, Pakistan’s intelligence service supported radical Islamic parties and looked the other way while the Taliban and al Qaida terrorists established safe havens in the remote provinces. At the same time, the military ruler chased his political opponents into exile. In the end, “only a democratic government, working in partnership with Pakistan’s armed forces, can muster the popular support to fight extremism” and “restore Pakistan’s integrity as a stable and progressive Islamic state.”
But if the U.S. is counting on Bhutto to bring Pakistan into the 21st century, said Fatima Bhutto, a niece of Benazir, in the Los Angeles Times, it may be disappointed. The last time she held power in Pakistan, she was one of only three world leaders to recognize the brutal Taliban regime as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan. Nor does she respect the rule of law. A convicted money launderer, she struck a shady deal with Musharraf to get further corruption charges dropped so she could return from exile and share power with him. “Now she might like to distance herself” from the general, “but it is too late.”
Bhutto certainly won’t be a panacea, said H.D.S. Greenway in
The Boston Globe. She and her successor, Sharif, had “left Pakistan mired in corruption and decline,” which strengthened the hands of Islamic extremists. For all his failings, Musharraf did transform “a failing economy into one of the economic success stories of the developing world” and improved relations with India. In the end, any Pakistani leader will have to walk a careful line between fighting terrorism and provoking an Islamic revolution that could put the bomb in al Qaida’s hands.
Bhutto’s decision to push a full confrontation with Musharraf makes it unlikely that he can survive, most analysts inside and outside of Pakistan agreed. If she succeeds in uniting the many fractured opposition groups—students, lawyers, women’s civic groups, and religious parties—Bhutto leaves him with two choices: dropping all pretense that he’s anything but a military dictator or stepping down. “Benazir said clearly that Musharraf has to go, which is what the others were waiting for her to say,” Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst in Lahore, told The Washington Post. “If the trend continues, it will create a very difficult situation for Musharraf.”
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