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Will The U.S. Be Forced To “Pack It In” In Pakistan?

The problem with supporting military regimes is evidenced by the arbitrary declaration of martial law just imposed by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. What hangs in the balance is Pakistan’s ability to move towards democracy and our ability to insure a government which will be supportive of American efforts in the region.

Should Pakistan follow the unfortunate course of unelected regimes previously backed by the U.S., we may well have reached a point of no return and we may soon witness the chaos that accompanies efforts to overthrow an unpopular and self-appoint ed leader.

From The New York Times:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 3 — The Pakistani leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, declared a state of emergency on Saturday night, suspending the country’s Constitution  , blacking out all independent television news reports and filling the streets of the capital with police officers and soldiers.

The move appeared to be an effort by General Musharraf to reassert his fading power in the face of growing opposition from the country’s Supreme Court, civilian political parties and hard-line Islamists. Pakistan’s Supreme Court was expected to rule within days on the legality of General Musharraf’ s re-election last month as the country’s president, which opposition groups have said was improper.

The emergency declaration was in direct defiance of repeated calls this week from senior American officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, not to do so. A day earlier, the senior American military commander in the Middle East, Admiral William J. Fallon, told General Musharraf and his top generals in a meeting here that declaring emergency rule would jeopardize the extensive American financial support for the Pakistani military.

Even if Musharraf can maintain his hold on power, the move further harms the image of the United States with the Pakistani people. Our support for Musharraf has clearly begun to alienate the citizenry from all things associated with the United States and it seems to be fueling a shift towards support for the radical Islamists…ex tremists who are increasingly seen by Pakistanis as an acceptable alternative to the continuation of a U.S. backed regime.

I suspect the U.S. threat to withhold monetary and military support rings hollow with Musharraf since he may well have calculated his only means to hold power is found in a suspension of the constitution and the cancellation of future democratic elections. If that supposition is accurate, the U.S. seems to have diminishing leverage…at least for the foreseeable future.

The fact that we’ve wagered the bulk of our relationship with Pakistan on Musharraf may prove to have been a grave mistake and may well preclude the U.S. from exerting any substantial influence on the political future of this strategicall y significant nation. It may even lead to an outright rejection of any resolution put forth by the United States.

If Musharraf continues to push the envelope, the hopes for maintaining a regime friendly to the interests of the United States may rest upon the shoulders of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Should the suspension of the constitution persist, our prior efforts to forge a shared power arrangement between Musharraf and Bhutto may no longer be viable for two reasons. One, Musharraf may believe the arrangement is too threatening to his hold on power and simple refuse such a strategy. Two, such an arrangement may soon be viewed as another leadership arrangement contrived and supported by the United States…one which the Pakistani people flatly reject.

Should the latter happen and the moderates, who make up the membership of Bhutto’s political party, conclude that she has become a pawn of the Bush administrati on, the last organized force for democracy may suddenly be weakened or, even worse, evaporate. Were the party to collapse; sending those moderates into the camp of extremists with the belief that they offer the only means to cut the strings that have kept a U.S. backed puppet regime in place, the worst case scenario…a regime hostile to the U.S. and sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda…may come to fruition.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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