A Bet Goes Sour

Sunday, November 4, 2007

ON FRIDAY, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pleaded with Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, not to declare a state of emergency. Yesterday, he declared a state of emergency, suspending the constitution. Did he not believe that the Bush administration really would object, or did he not care?

If the former, his judgment would be understandable. From the start, the administration has exempted Pakistan's dictator (among many others) from President Bush's supposed commitment to democracy promotion, which is based on the idea that freedom offers the most attractive alternative to Islamist extremism. Mr. Musharraf took power in a coup in 1999, promising to bring "true" democracy to his Muslim state. That promise, like many others -- to give up his uniform, for example -- was discarded. But with every broken promise, the administration was tolerant, even supportive, always citing the general's claimed willingness to fight the extremists. Even yesterday, as Ms. Rice's spokesman asserted that the United States was "deeply disturbed," there was no mention of suspending military cooperation or otherwise giving meaning to those words.

The irony is that Pakistan seems to be bearing witness to Mr. Bush's professed belief that autocracy breeds more extremism. The Taliban and al-Qaeda have strengthened in parts of the country, rebuilding safe havens they can use to plan attacks in Afghanistan, in Europe and beyond. They have managed to bring their battle to urban Pakistan in ways they never did before. The institutions that could have provided some defense against extremism -- Pakistan's two largest political parties, the judicial system -- have been weakened by Mr. Musharraf in his desperation to cling to power. That was again his motive yesterday; he feared that the Supreme Court was about to rule that he was ineligible to serve another five-year term as president. His declaration, punctuated by arrests, the firing of the chief justice and the seizure of television networks, will further weaken moderation and exacerbate Pakistan's crisis.

No one pretends that there are easy answers in Pakistan, where nuclear weapons and growing extremism could come together in the ultimate nightmare scenario. With varying degrees of intensity over the years, Mr. Musharraf has opposed al-Qaeda, and his troops have taken many casualties in the fight. But the state of emergency is basically an admission of failure. He has led his nation down a dead-end street. If Mr. Bush had listened to his own speeches, he might have predicted it.

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