Let's Mean It, For a Change
The United States must stop supporting President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf.
President Bush has treated him as an ally in the war on terror, and Musharraf has managed to convince not just Bush but many Americans who are aware of his existence that doing so makes sense. Like many a strongman before him, Musharraf has earned American financial and political backing by rhetorically positioning himself as the only thing standing between his country and the enemies of America--in this case, Islamic fundamentalists. Pakistan's nuclear weapons make the threat of an Islamist takeover especially alarming and therefore make us more likely to listen carefully when Musharraf says he's the one keeping nukes out of Osama bin Laden's hands.
But that now seems like bunch of bunk.
For days now, despite martial law, Pakistanis have taken to the street to protest Musharraf's sacking of the Supreme Court and his feeble interest in holding elections as scheduled. But the people calling for Musharraf to resign aren't al-Qaeda and Taliban sympathizers. Many--maybe most--of them are lawyers.
It's easy to make lawyer jokes, but these should be America's best allies in the region. They have a commitment to the rule of law, to the democratic process, and a deep opposition to letting a bunch of Islamist thugs take office. Musharraf talks a good game about preventing the spread of radical Islam, but all his authoritarian rule does is encourage it because Musharraf's ultimate interest is in staying in power, not in improving life for Pakistanis. The more poverty, ignorance, and hopelessness in Pakistan, the better the chance al-Qaeda has of making real gains there. The more hopeful, educated, thoughtful people in positions of genuine authority, the more obvious al-Qaeda's stupidity and death worship will be to average Pakistanis.
Musharraf may be our dictator, but he's a dictator. Right now we have a choice between supporting him and supporting democratic reformers. That should be an easy choice, and it's one we should happily make while we still have the chance. If we continue to support Musharraf, we really will have to make the choice that he wants us to think we already have to make: the choice between him and some even less pleasant jerks. Why let it come to that?
We're always talking about spreading the rule of law and a faith in democracy. Now, in Pakistan, let's mean it.