Thursday, January 13, 2005
WASHINGTON — Pakistani
President Pervez Musharraf's (search) potentially explosive announcement
last month that he would not step down as military chief and
rule his country as a civilian drew barely a whisper from the
U.S. media and Washington officials.
The silence, say foreign policy analysts, reveals as much
about U.S. policy toward Pakistan since the Sept. 11, 2001,
terror attacks as any public remarks could. While U.S.
officials may not wish to criticize Musharraf, analysts say it
might be a mistake in the long term for the United States to
turn a blind eye to Pakistan's military ruler.
"The tensions are between long-term objectives and
short-term objectives," said Ashley Tellis, foreign policy
scholar at Carnegie Institute for International Peace
(search). "Our objective in the short term is
to defeat Al Qaeda (search), and we essentially need Musharraf
as the head of the army that is assisting us. The long-term
objective is to have Pakistan a democracy, meaning you don't
want a military chief as head of the country."
Just before the new year, Musharraf, who has held office
since taking over in a bloodless military coup in 1999,
announced he would not honor a promise he made in 2003. He had
pledged to hang up his uniform at the end of 2004 in return
for broader constitutional powers allowing him to dissolve
Parliament and the prime minister's office at his
His announcement came weeks after the largely pro-Musharraf
Parliament approved a bill allowing him to retain his position
as army chief while serving as president.
Musharraf explained on Dec. 30 that the reversal was
necessary for the security of the country, suggesting that
"any change in internal or external policies can be extremely
dangerous for Pakistan."
Little has come in the way of a response from Washington.
Asked by Agence-France Press on Dec. 31 about the development,
Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said, "This is a judgment for the
Pakistani people to make.
"The Parliament provided the means for him to do this. What
I have to look at is where Pakistan has been, back in 2001,
and where it is now, and the significant changes that have
taken place as it has moved toward democracy," Powell
But Muqtedar Khan, professor of political science at Adrian
College in Michigan, said Musharraf's move directly
"undermines the claim that this is a democracy and also
suggests he is unsure about his own position in Pakistan.
"In many ways (Musharraf) is an autocrat," Khan said. "He
is more liberal than the Middle East dictators," but as long
as he changes the constitution to accumulate more power and
continues to wear a military uniform, "Pakistan will remain a
Khan said he doubted that Washington would raise much of an
objection because to do so would create tensions between the
two countries and among political parties in Pakistan.
Since Sept. 11, the United States has given more than $1
billion to help beef up the Pakistani military's so-far
unsuccessful search for Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden
(search), who is believed to have been in
hiding along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Other U.S. aid to Pakistan has increased and trade
agreements have been more favorable to Pakistanis. In March,
Pakistan was given "non-ally status" in the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (search). One month ago, President Bush
promised to help Musharraf with new weapons systems.
Tellis suggested that Pakistan has astutely used its
geographic proximity and strategic role in the War on Terror —
Musharraf has helped to crack down on Taliban (search) and Al Qaeda in his country and is
allowing U.S. military on its bases. His claims to have kept
more radical Islamic elements at bay is a powerful form of
"What [the Bush administration is] struggling with is the
brute reality of what they cannot negotiate around," said
Tellis. "They recognize that if they push too hard, what
[Musharraf] is likely to say is take a hike."
One of those areas where the United States refuses to push
is related to Musharraf's response to the investigation of top
nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, who helped turn Pakistan into a
nuclear power and has admitted to selling nuclear materials to
countries like North Korea, Iran and Libya for decades.
In 2002, Musharraf announced that a government
investigation had uncovered Khan's activities. Since then,
Pakistan has been unwilling to let International Atomic
Energy Agency (search) officials question Khan, who had
been in charge of Pakistan's nuclear program since 1976 and is
considered by many to be a national hero. Musharraf instead
assured the U.N. agency that Pakistan can handle the Khan
inquiry itself. Powell suggested in his Dec. 31 interview that
the United States is so far satisfied with Musharraf's
attention to the problem.
"Musharraf is the best ally we have in Pakistan, and the
best ally we are likely to get in the foreseeable future,"
said Jim Phillips, foreign policy fellow at the Heritage
Foundation. "We don't want to undermine him, but at the same
time we can't back away from our goals of promoting democracy
in Pakistan and in the Muslim world."
John Gershman, co-director of Foreign Policy in
Focus (search), a Washington, D.C., think-tank,
said the Muslim world is watching closely and may be tired of
what they see as a double standard.
"I think Pakistan has benefited from a double standard at
least as much as Saudi Arabia in the post-9/11 period," he
said, "and I think it's a problem when we have really hard
evidence that the absence of democratic institutions provides
a fertile proving ground for fundamentalist Islamicist
Meanwhile, protests against Musharraf, which range from
former ruling parties to more extreme Islamic groups, have not
stirred up enough outrage among Pakistanis to create any
concern for Musharraf, according to observers.
"The opposition at this point is completely divided and
feckless. Unless he fails disastrously by a silly or costly
mistake, I think people will tolerate it for a little while
longer. There is a process of some kind of social and economic
stability right now," said Tellis.
He added that the Bush administration might privately
encourage Musharraf to start transitioning to a civilian rule.
But anything more than that could show weakness in Musharraf's
"The relationship with the U.S has to stay stable," Tellis