PAKISTAN: US paper advises Bush to stop supporting Musharraf
A New York Times editorial takes a hard line against Musharraf's claim to leadership; USA Today lists Benazir Bhutto has his most likely challenger
Monday, June 11, 2007
By Masood Haider
New York --- In its lead editorial on Monday, the New York Times advises the Bush administration not to support the Musharraf government as it would hurt the US efforts to defeat extremists.
The paper urged Washington to "disentangle America, quickly, from the general's damaging embrace" and support democratic forces in the country.
The hard-hitting editorial disagrees with President Pervez Musharraf's claim that he was a 'democratic leader', arguing that if he had been one, he would not be "so busy threatening independent news outlets, arresting hundreds of opposition politicians and berating parliamentary leaders and ministers from his own party for insufficient loyalty to his arbitrary and widely unpopular policies".
The paper claimed that nobody took Gen Musharraf's democratic claims seriously except the Bush administration which considers him "an essential ally in its half-baked campaign to promote democracy throughout the Muslim world".
The paper argues that Pakistan seems to be rapidly approaching a critical turning point, "with a choice between intensified repression and instability or an orderly transition back to democratic rule.
"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 paper adds.
According to NYT, that's a process the chief justice was trying to make possible when he was fired. And that is what Pakistan's last two democratically-elected leaders -- Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif -- are both campaigning for from abroad.
"The United States should be supporting these efforts, not continuing to make excuses for General Musharraf."
"Pakistan has its share of violent Islamic extremists, military and civilian … But they are clearly in the minority," the paper says. "The best hope for diluting their political, and geopolitical, influence lies not in heating the pressure cooker of repression, but in promoting the earliest possible democratic elections."
"Ever since his high-handed dismissal of the country's independent-minded chief justice in March, the general has been busily digging himself into an ever deeper political hole," the paper notes.
"Last week, he issued a decree giving himself increased powers to shut down independent television channels, but under mounting pressure he withdrew it over the weekend.
"More than 300 local political leaders in Punjab were arrested in an effort to head off protests against the decree. Still, thousands of lawyers, journalists and political activists gathered to protest the firing, the censorship and the general's continued rule."
'Benazir and Nawaz most influential politicians'
Washington --- Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto tops the list of President Pervez Musharraf's most likely challengers, a US newspaper's list published on Monday showed.
The USA Today list shows that even after eight years of military rule and continued efforts to discredit them, Ms Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif remain the two most influential politicians in Pakistan.
Their parties -- PPP and PML-N -- are also shown as the two strongest political groups.
The third on the list is Imran Khan while Jamaat-i-Islami's Qazi Hussain Ahmad occupies sixth place.
But there are two surprise entries for the fourth and fifth places: Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and his lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan.
Ms Bhutto, 53, is still popular in Sindh and among secular middle-class Pakistanis, the paper notes, adding that her relationship to 'the executed populist' Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto remains her main political strength.
Despite vilification by both the Sharif and Musharraf governments, she remains "the most popular democratic politician in Pakistan" with a "large, well-organised political party".
Date Posted: 6/12/2007