America’s precarious ally

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf keeps proving that he can't be trusted, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. Last week, the embattled Musharraf was close to declaring a nationwide state of emergency, which would have 'œconveniently' allowed him to delay elections and crack down on his political opposition and the press. It took an unusual late-night plea from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to help deter 'œwhat would have been a historic folly.' That's actually putting it mildly, said The New York Times. Considering Pakistan's precarious state, a power grab by Musharraf now could trigger 'œa political cataclysm.' Pakistan's middle class has been protesting in the streets for months, angry at Musharraf's bid to oust a judge who dared to rule against him. Islamist militants have been clashing with police. The military, Musharraf's power base, is growing restive. For Washington, merely 'œtelling Musharraf not to seize still more power is not enough.' Until he negotiates a transition to democracy, the prospect looms that Pakistan's nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

The hour is indeed growing late, said Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid in The Washington Post. Sadly, President Bush has already squandered countless chances to support democracy in Pakistan. His administration 'œlooked away' in 2002, when the army rigged Pakistan's elections, and it has ignored the suppression of mainstream parties ever since. All this year, 'œas our civil society filled the streets' calling for elections, the U.S. government offered not one word of encouragement. American support could have helped engineer a broad-based Pakistani government that would have the strength to fight extremists. Instead, Musharraf is now desperately 'œbattling for survival,' refusing to yield power to civilians yet unable to exert the authority he needs to effectively root out the Taliban and al Qaida militants in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Amir Taheri

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Dennis Ross

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