NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL on August 23, 2002
Power Grab in Pakistan
Gen. Pervez Musharraf's latest assault on Pakistan's democratic aspirations requires a strong rebuke from Washington. The Bush administration is understandably grateful to General Musharraf for breaking with the Taliban last year and supporting American military operations in Afghanistan. Yet any credible long-term strategy against terrorism must include consistent American support for democracy throughout the Islamic world.
Pakistan, the world's second most populous Muslim country, cannot be exempted from this requirement. General Musharraf, who seized power in 1999, summarily added 29 new amendments to his country's Constitution on Wednesday that no future legislature will be able to repeal. They allow him to dismiss the country's soon-to-be-elected Parliament, appoint supreme court judges and military commanders and impose additional constitutional amendments whenever he chooses. They also give the military a permanent role in government through the establishment of a new national security council. These changes make a mockery of promised October parliamentary elections that opposition parties were given a good chance of winning.
Washington's tepid response is embarrassing. Administration spokesmen have meekly expressed concern and reiterated America's support for an eventual return to democratic rule. What is needed is strong and specific criticism of measures that eliminate any chance for a peaceful transition to democracy. It would also help to remind General Musharraf that American aid to Pakistan could be calibrated to reflect democratic progress, as the White House has just done with another repressive but strategic ally, Egypt.
For years, Washington has condoned anti-democratic behavior by pro-American dictators. That double standard has fanned anti-American anger in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. For years Washington cozied up to the previous Pakistani military ruler, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, uncritically giving him aid in return for his help in driving Soviet forces out of Afghanistan. Along the way General Zia turned Pakistan into a hotbed for Islamic extremists, including many Arabs who eventually found their way into Osama bin Laden's terror network. Washington should never again be so uncritical of the undemocratic company it sometimes feels compelled to keep.