Most foreign policy observers believe that the US will not only maintain its $10 billion in aid to Pakistan – regardless of which leader emerges, or how many people remain in jail under the country’s apparently indefinite “state of emergency” – but will increase it.

“The Bush Administration will choose ‘realpolitik’ over ‘democracy promotion’ so long as a single terrorist is left in the country,” according to a State Department source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We will vehemently vow to reexamine our aid programs, urge free and fair elections, free jailed dissidents, restore the Supreme Court, and then, after some ‘respectable’ period, regress to the status quo ante.”

He added: “It’s all about maintaining ‘stability’ while working with the US to hunt down the bad guys.”

Another foreign affairs specialist, Patricia Lee Sharpe, a communications specialist with 22 years in the US Foreign Service in Asia, Africa and Latin America, agrees. “I think this will be the likely course of US policy,” she says.

Musharraf said the measures were part of the ‘war on terror’, but others believe he was merely trying to head off a Supreme Court ruling that he could not stand for reelection while continuing to head the Pakistani military.

As seen by Marjorie Cohn, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson Law School and president of the National Lawyers Guild, “Musharraf’s declaration of emergency was not aimed at fighting terrorism; it was designed to maintain Musharraf in power. It came shortly after the Supreme Court nullified the results of an election that would have preserved Musharraf’s rule. Musharraf, who has received more than $10 billion from the United States since 9/11, isn’t targeting the terrorists, but rather the judges and lawyers who use the law to challenge his unilateral power.”

Musharraf dismissed his country’s Supreme Court, placed the recently-returned opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, under house arrest, jailed hundreds of lawyers, banned peaceful public demonstrations, and released Taliban sympathizers from jail in a lopsided prisoner swap.

Over the weekend, Musharraf said he “hoped” to hold a presidential election in the next few months, but did not indicate when or whether the state of emergency would be ended. Under that decree, opposition political parties would be virtually unable to compete on anything like a level playing field.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on a Sunday television show that Musharraf made a “bad decision”, but added that now would be the wrong time for the US to abandon him. She said the US role should be to help Pakistan to get back on the road to democracy.

There are a host of reasons why Pakistan’s current difficulties are giving the White House such a major migraine. Most experts agree that without aggressive Pakistani action, the Taliban and Al Qaeda cannot be routed from the tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And there is equal concern about Pakistani nuclear materials or weapons falling into the hands of extremists. But another factor high on the US list of concerns is the fact that President Bush has made democracy-promotion the rhetorical centerpiece of his Administration.

In last year’s State of the Union speech to Congress, the president said, “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” In his 2005 inauguration speech, he mentioned “freedom” 25 times in 20 minutes.

But now, the Administration will likely have to put democracy-promotion
on the back-burner and play the ‘realpolitik’ game. This will likely result
in the US accepting another authoritarian dictator, so long as he pledges an
undying commitment to being a steadfast ally in America’s ‘global war on terrorism.’

The future direction of US policy toward Pakistan was made clear by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who defended President Musharraf as an “indispensable” ally. “No country has done more in terms of inflicting damage and punishment on the Taliban and al-Qaeda since 9/11 . . .There”s nothing more important at this time than for the United States to be consistently engaged and committed to try to do the right thing with Pakistan,” he told a congressional committee.

Informed observers say the relatively mild US reaction to the Pakistan crisis — along with similar predicaments such as the Iraqi election and the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections — has sounded the death-knell for President Bush’s democracy-promotion agenda. Others say the agenda never existed in the first place. They charge that the Bush Administration has chosen to cozy up to numerous authoritarian rulers abroad supposedly to support more important strategic goals. Some point to Egypt as one of many examples.

President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt since 1981, won another six-year term in office by “popular referendum” in 2005, garnering 88.6 percent of the total vote in an election that many believe was rife with electoral fraud and intimidation. Despite its shortcomings, the Bush administration welcomed the vote as a positive step towards democracy and massive American aid to Egypt continued without interruption.

Mubarak came to power following the assassination of ex-president Anwar el-Sadat by Islamic extremists in 1981. He declared the country under a “state of emergency,” giving the government the right to imprison individuals for any period of time, and for virtually no reason, thus keeping them in jailed without trials for any period.

The ‘emergency laws” have been in effect ever since. The US State Department and human rights groups throughout the world have documented a litany of egregious abuses under the ‘emergency’ regimen, including stifling of opposition political parties, torture and death indetention, and the arrests and imprisonment of political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders with little or no due process.

In 2006, President George W. Bush pressed the aging Mubarak to open his political system to multi-party elections. Mubarak pledged to allow opposition parties to participate in presidential as well as parliamentary elections. Instead, he jailed his chief opponent and extended the draconian emergency laws.

The US Government response was cancellation of a planned visit to Cairo by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Meanhile, Washington has provided billions in military and economic aid to Egypt – behind only Israel and Pakistan as the largest recipients.

US interest in Egypt centers on its place as the largest Arab country in the Middle East, its role in furthering American military and foreign policy, and its potential for helping to realize an end to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian issue. Egypt has maintained formal – if chilly – diplomatic relations with Israel since Egyptian President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin met with US President Jimmy Carter at Camp David in 1978. A year later, Egypt became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel. It has been a major recipient of US military and economic aid ever since. But it has done little to use its influence to broker a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel.

As in Pakistan, the Mubarak government’s major justification for maintaining Egypt’s state of emergency is the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. The government says that opposition groups like the banned Muslim Brotherhood – which recently gained a substantial number of seats in Egypt’s parliament by running as ‘independents’ — could come to power in Egypt if the Mubarak regime eliminated the emergency laws. But since its inception, the movement has officially opposed violent means to achieve its goals – a claim rejected by the Egyptian government.

Mubarak’s critics argue that this goes against President Bush’s own principles of democracy, which include a citizen”s right to a fair trial and the right to vote for the candidate or party of their choice.

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, is a multinational Sunni Islamist movement and arguably the world”s largest and most influential political Islamist group. The Brotherhood remains an illegal organization in Egypt and is not recognized as a political party.

But the differences between conditions in Pakistan and Egypt are just as numerous as the similarities.

One foreign policy expert, Richard Undeland, a 35-year State Department Foreign Service veteran, says, “Pakistan is nuclear. There is no part of Egypt that is not under firm government control. Egypt does not have tribal problems. The political geography is wholly different. There is nothing analogous to Afghanistan in turmoil or nuclear India. We have no pressing, immediate problems with Egypt. Egyptian concentration of attention on Palestine finds no close parallel in Pakistan.”

His view is echoed by Samer Shehata, Professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown University. He says, “Pakistan has nuclear weapons, there are sections of the country that are not under the control – not only of Musharaf, but of a central government and radicals and extremists are stronger in mainstream politics than in Egypt, not to mention the fact that Pakistan is one of the ‘front lines’ in the so called ‘war on terrorism’.”

But experts suggest that realpolitik US decisions will not turn on the differences between Pakistan and other authoritarian regimes. They say that America will continue to champion democracy rhetorically, but will find itself making choices between actively promoting it and supporting authoritarian and often tyrannical regimes abroad.

Some observers see these choices as the result of a American hidden agenda. For example, Mark A. Levine, professor of history at the University of California at Irvine, says, “The US is behind the lack of democracy in the region; it”s supported dictators, monarchs and other authoritarian leaders for half a century, regardless of which party was in the White House or controlled Congress. For a simple reason: The interests of the US military and business class — especially the arms and oil sectors — would not be served nearly as well, if at all, under democratic systems of government in the region.