US Must Stand Firm In Support of Democracy and the Rule of Law in Pakistan

US Must Stand Firm In Support of Democracy and the Rule of Law in Pakistan

News that President Musharraf will step down as the head of the Pakistani military is a welcome development, but for the sake of US national security and international credibility the American response must be stronger.

When President Musharraf declared martial law three weeks ago, the Administration stood paralyzed. President Bush even praised Musharraf just before Thanksgiving, stating Musharraf “hasn’t crossed the line” and “truly is somebody who believes in democracy.” Not only has this made US rhetoric in support of democracy look like a sham, but it has also put the United States in a dangerous position in which it is seemingly on the side of an authoritarian leader against the democratic wishes of the people of Pakistan.Instead of developing a comprehensive approach towards Pakistan – its leadership and its people – the Bush administration adopted a one-dimensional policy focused on supporting a single individual – General Musharraf. Such a policy could perhaps be excused if it had achieved results. But it has not. Pakistan has become less stable. Its tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan remain a safe haven for both Al Qaeda and for the Taliban, which has used the region to destabilize the Karzai government in Afghanistan and to attack US and NATO forces. And democracy has slid backward.The United States should demand that President Musharraf end the state of emergency, release those who have been detained during this period, restore the independence of the judiciary, and hold free and fair national and provincial elections in January. While the United States must continue to assist Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts, the US should stop writing a blank check to Musharraf and condition its assistance to ensure that it is actually used for counter-terrorism or development purposes.


Bush administration response was one of paralysis. The Bush administration’s tepid and delayed response to Musharraf’s declaration reflects a state of paralysis and uncertainty in US policy toward Pakistan. Simon Robinson and Aryn Baker of Time Magazine write that, “The White House could only wag a disapproving finger at the Pakistani dictator, urging him to give up his military uniform and hold elections. ‘I certainly hope he does take my advice,’ Bush said. What little reproach there was in the President”s comments was undermined by his description of Musharraf as a ‘strong fighter against extremists and radicals’–and by swift reassurances from Administration officials that there would be no slowing in the flow of American aid to the Pakistani military.” As Daniel Markey, a former Bush administration State Department official who worked on Pakistan until earlier this year, stated, “It never stitched together… At every step, there was more risk aversion – because of the risk of rocking the boat seemed so high – than there was a real strategic vision.” [Time, 11/08/07. NY Times, 10/20/07]

“They know nothing about Pakistan” – Bush administration lacks Pakistan experts. The Washington Post reported that there has been a “dramatic drop-off in US expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in US history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State”s policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney”s office.” For example, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, has a background in Latin American drug policy and Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, has a background in China and East Asia. A former State Department official told the Post, “they know nothing about Pakistan.” [Washington Post, 6/17/07]

Pakistan policy reportedly being run from Vice President Cheney’s office. The Washington Post reported in June that Bush”s failing Pakistan policy was “essentially being run from [Vice President] Cheney’s office.” [Washington Post, 6/17/07]

Bush administration response makes US democracy promotion efforts look like a sham. In President Bush’s second inaugural address he used soaring rhetoric to talk about democracy in the greater Middle East, “America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. We will challenge the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror, and expect a higher standard from our friend.” Yet the tepid American response and the Bush administration’s Musharraf policy has led the “Pakistanis (to) see Musharraf as America’s man and regard US calls for democracy as insincere.” [Time, 11/08/07]


US policy “built around one person.” The Bush administration’s policy to Pakistan has been “built around one person – and that is Musharraf,” said Teresita C. Schaffer, a Pakistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. This has been a very risky approach, considering that there have been repeated assassination attempts on Musharraf and that the public, as well as the military’s support for Musharraf has never been assured. By putting all their eggs in one basket with Musharraf the result is that “we were seen,” as Schaffer explains, “more as Musharraf”s friends than Pakistan’s friends.” [NY Times, 10/20/07]

Moderate Reformists and Extremists on the same side opposing Musharraf – echoes of the Shah of Iran. The situation in Pakistan is looking frighteningly similar to the situation with the Shah of Iran in the late 1970s. Vali Nasr writes that “The longer Musharraf stays in power the more Pakistan will look like Iran in 1979: an isolated and unpopular ruler hanging on to power only to inflame passions and bring together his Islamic and pro-democracy opposition into a dangerous alliance.” Additionally, the fact that the US is widely seen as the primary backer of Musharraf, just as it was with the Shah, could mean that continued opposition to Musharraf adopts an increasingly anti-American stance. [CSM, 11/06/07]

Bush is proving to be a bad judge of character. Similar to President Bush’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin that was solidified when President Bush “looked into Putin’s soul,” Bush explained that “When [Musharraf] looks me in the eye and says there won’t be a Taliban and won”t be Al Qaeda, I believe him.” The Wall Street Journal noted that while President Clinton’s approach sought to emphasize the importance of democratic processes, President Bush’s “public message (to Musharraf) will be the opposite of Mr. Clinton’s: Pakistan’s president and chief of army staff is his “friend,” his buddy, a “man of courage,” one who has a tough job and has survived several assassination attempts.” [Washington Quarterly, Spring 2007. WSJ, 3/03/06]

We’ve become Musharraf’s “ATM Machine.” Stephen P. Cohen at the Brookings Institution explains, “There was apparently a belief that he was a truly outstanding leader, and if not another Ataturk or Ayub Khan, that at least he was doing the best that he could. Thus, there was no thought of making our multi-billion dollar aid program conditional upon performance. So in effect we’ve, wasted several billions of dollars, becoming Musharraf’s ATM machine, allowing him to build up a military establishment that was irrelevant to his (and our) real security threat, yet presiding over an intensification of anti-American feelings in Pakistan itself, and failing to provide adequate aid to Pakistan’s failing social and educational sectors.” [Brookings Institution, 11/05/07]

US assistance funding has no strings attached. Lisa Curtis, a South Asia analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation said that money being sent to Pakistan was in the form of “a cash transfer.” Curtis, who formerly worked on the South Asia desk at the State Department and for Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) added that the money “goes directly to the Pakistani treasury.” The problem with this transfer of funding is that, as Rick Barton of CSIS explains, “We don’t have good sense where it goes… we don’t ask a lot of questions, and we don”t have a lot of record-keeping.” Craig Cohen the Vice President of the Center for Strategic and International Studies explains that, “The whole orientation of policy and assistance provided since 9/11 is that he”s the indispensable leader,” says Cohen. “And the money runs through the central government and that leader… The notion is it gives them greater flexibility on how to use the money… The trade-off is accountability.” [TPM, 11/07/07]


Pakistan is now more unstable. As opposed to uniting Pakistani moderates – the vast majority of the population – against the growing strength of radical extremists, Mushharraf’s crack down against lawyers and reformers has only served to unite many moderates and extremists in their opposition to Mushharaf. The Economist noted, Musharraf, “is now a central part of Pakistan’s instability.” Musharraf’s invocation of martial law, while the action of an authoritarian strongman, actually reflects the weakness of a leader who has lost support and is struggling to stay in power. Additionally, Musharraf has made little progress in stabilizing Pakistan. As Robert D. Blackwill, the former American ambassador to India and a senior official in the National Security Council during Mr. Bush’s first term explains, “What I am struck by are the trends we see today: the North-West Province is ungovernable and a sanctuary for terrorists… The politics are fractured and deeply unstable, Musharraf is weaker, and the army is uncertain which way it will go.” [Economist, 11/09/07. NY Times, 10/20/07]

Counter-terrorism efforts have produced limited results – Osama Bin Laden remains at large in Pakistan. Stephen P. Cohen explained that, “Administration officials have gloated that they coerced Pakistan into signing on to the ill-named war on terrorism. In return, Islamabad played a double game regarding its participation in this struggle.” Cohen added, “Its intelligence services supported the Taliban, while only reluctantly going after the al Qaeda forces embedded in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The failure to round up the Taliban leadership was a matter of state policy: the Pakistan army still regards India as its major threat, and the Taliban are used to counterbalance Indian influence in Afghanistan.” [Brookings Institution, 11/05/07]

Pakistan has served as a safe haven for the Taliban – undermining efforts in Afghanistan. The New York Times explained that “The overwhelming consensus in Afghanistan, including among foreign diplomats and members of Mr. Karzai’s administration, is that Pakistan is orchestrating, or at least turning a blind eye, to the campaign against Afghanistan to keep the country unstable, and to retain influence through its clients.” Newsweek quoted a Taliban commander in Pakistan “Until I return to fight (in Afghanistan), I”ll feel safe and relaxed here.” [NY Times, 9/06/06. Newsweek, 10/29/07]


The US should distance itself from Musharraf and show strong support for the establishment of the rule of law and the holding of free and fair elections. The New York Times editorial board argues that, “Were Washington now to begin distancing itself from the general, it would greatly encourage civic-minded Pakistanis to step up the pressure for free national elections… The United States should be supporting these efforts, not continuing to make excuses for General Musharraf.” Thomas Pickering, Carla Hills, and Morton Abramowitz explain that, “Poll after poll has found that if fair and free elections were held under constitutional protections and monitored by national and international observers, the result would be a moderate, pro-Western, anti-extremist government in Pakistan.” The best hope for minimizing the influence of extremists, explains the New York Times, “lies not in heating the pressure cooker of repression, but in promoting the earliest possible democratic elections.” [New York Times, 6/11/07. Washington Post, 11/13/07]

Make foreign assistance to Pakistan accountable. Much of US security funding to Pakistan has gone to military purchases that are irrelevant to Pakistan’s counter terrorism efforts. US funding has often gone to military purchases of little utility to Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts. The US should condition and target its assistance to Pakistan in ways that ensure US assistance is directed at counter-terrorism activities by the Pakistani military, as well as efforts that help the Pakistani public through promoting democracy and alleviating poverty. Senator Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested that the US should take its $1.5 billion annual funding and “Instead of funding military hardware, it would build schools, clinics, and roads.” Senator Biden also said he would also create a “democracy dividend” of $1 billion, for the first year of democratic rule. [Washington Post 11/8/07]

Reach out to civil society. Mahnaz Ispahani writes in the Wall Street Journal, “Besides an announced public diplomacy event—where Mr. Bush may rightly bask in the prompt and generous American response to the devastating October 8 earthquake—we have not had any advance news of specific meetings between Mr. Bush and leaders of civil society groups, political parties, the new generation of business people, parliamentarians, women’s groups, educators or students. Yet these nonmilitary institutions and leaders might get a hearing, too.” [WSJ, 3/03/06]