Gen. Musharraf Is the Problem
LIKE MANY autocrats before him, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has confused his own fortunes with those of his country. Over the weekend he told a visiting U.S. envoy that only he could save Pakistan from terrorism and lead it toward democracy. In fact, the opposite is true: It is increasingly clear that Gen. Musharraf has become the foremost obstacle to ending Pakistan's state of emergency and revitalizing what has been a losing battle against Islamic extremists. The Bush administration, which has been trying to rescue Gen. Musharraf, needs to accept that Pakistan's rescue can begin only with his departure.
Every major step Gen. Musharraf has taken in the past two weeks has been aimed at preserving his hold on power, at the expense of his country. The state of emergency he declared did not facilitate the army's fight against extremists, as he claimed, but it allowed him to fire a dozen Supreme Court judges who were considering legal challenges to his highly manipulated "reelection" as president. Yesterday the new judges appointed by Gen. Musharraf dismissed most of the challenges; they are paving the way for him to remain president even as they destroy the nascent independence of the Pakistani judiciary.
Gen. Musharraf has sought to appease the Bush administration by announcing parliamentary elections for early January. But he has refused to lift the state of emergency and has suggested several times that he will hold the vote under de facto martial law. That would save Gen. Musharraf from the political and legal challenges that could flow from a restoration of the rule of law, since his actions after he suspended the constitution have been hugely unpopular and blatantly illegal. It could also allow him to control the results of the elections and prevent a strong showing by Pakistan's two largest secular political parties, which oppose him. But it would make a mockery of democracy and ruin the chance for Pakistan's moderate center -- its political parties, jurists, journalists and civil society groups -- to unite with the army against the growing threat of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The Bush administration, which for years has made the mistake of wedding itself to Gen. Musharraf rather than working to strengthen the country's secular institutions, at last is backing away slightly. President Bush telephoned the general to ask that he step down as army chief; Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte said after meeting Gen. Musharraf on Saturday that "emergency rule is not compatible with free, fair and credible elections." Mr. Negroponte also met with Gen. Musharraf's likely military successor, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, a pro-Western moderate. But the Bush administration is still clinging to the idea that Gen. Musharraf can be induced to make a deal with opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, though she has said publicly that she will no longer work with him.
In reality, it is difficult to imagine a positive outcome to Pakistan's crisis that does not involve Gen. Musharraf's retirement. The country's best interest, and that of the United States, lies in restoring the constitution, reinstating and strengthening an independent judiciary, reopening independent media without restrictions, and holding free and fair elections in which all Pakistani parties are able to participate. As Gen. Musharraf himself has recognized, he cannot survive in office under those conditions.