By Keith Jones:
The US media “discovers” Pakistan’s Musharraf is a dictator—why now?
2 June 2007
The New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have all published editorials in recent days taking the Bush administration to task for its unabashed and unequivocal support for Pakistan’s military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf.
In an editorial titled “Musharraf’s follies: When will the US hold the Pakistani president accountable for his abuse of power?” the Los Angeles Times compared the Bush administration’s support for Musharraf to the “terrible mistake” the US made in propping up three Cold War dictators who were ultimately swept from power by popular upheavals—the Shah of Iran, Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza, and the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos.
“Replace,” said the LA Times, “the words ‘reliably anti-communist’ with ‘reliable US ally in the war on terror,’ and despair at the Bush administration’s willingness to excuse heinous repression from Egypt to Saudi Arabia to Azerbaijan.
Worst of all is its policy toward Pakistan, where the administration refuses to distance the US from the increasingly errant autocrat Pervez Musharraf.”
Bill Clinton’s Democratic administration made no fuss in the fall of 1999 when Musharraf, then as now the chief of Pakistan’s armed services, seized power.
After all, the Pentagon has enjoyed an intimate partnership with Pakistan’s military since the early 1950s and Washington’s political establishment, for almost as long, has held the military to be the chief bulwark of a “stable Pakistan.”
But the Bush administration has not just acquiesced to military rule in Pakistan.
It has lavished praise and gobs of money on the Musharraf regime, declared Pakistan a “major non-NATO ally” of the US, repeatedly hailed the general as a pivotal leader in the war on terror, and proclaimed the various maneuvers he has taken to perpetuate military rule and run roughshod over the country’s constitution as steps on the road to “full democracy.”
Till now the US media has essentially peddled the administration’s line.
Certainly there has been no chorus of media voices pointing out the incongruity and downright absurdity of the Bush administration’s claims to have restored democracy in Afghanistan by entrenching military rule in Pakistan.
The New York Times inadvertently admitted its only complicity when in its May 23 editorial, “Propping up the General,” it counseled the Bush administration to “use the leverage it gets from [providing Islamabad] roughly $2 billion a year in aid to encourage an early return to democratic rule.”
An early return—after seven years and seven months of military dictatorship!
If sections of the press have now “discovered” that Musharraf is a despot, it is because they fear that the general is losing his grip and are anxious about the consequences for US interests and influence in Pakistan, as well as for the US’s larger strategic ambitions in South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East.
Since March, Pakistan has been convulsed by a mounting political crisis—a crisis that has precipitated the largest anti-government protests since Musharraf seized power and that has split the legal establishment.
Update September 2007: here.
Update October 2007: here.