Is Democratic Blackmail the US’ Only Option towards Musharraf’s Pakistan?

November 15, 2007

marcos.jpegmusharraf.jpeg

Periodically my usually repressed frustration with the US role in the world today boils over. Today’s rant was spurred on by a Washington Post editorial written by distinguished members of the International Crisis Group (ICG) board on the need for the US to withdrawal military funding for Gen. Musharraf unless he agrees to restore democracy.

What would restoring democracy entail?

…revoking the declaration of martial law; restoring the constitution, the judiciary and fundamental freedoms; and the release of all political detainees. Musharraf must give up his post of army chief and abide by any Supreme Court decision on his eligibility for the presidency. A neutral caretaker government should be formed, in consultation with all opposition parties, to oversee the polls, and the Election Commission of Pakistan should be reconstituted. Free, fair and transparent elections can then be held — something that is impossible under martial law.

In other words, demanding a complete about face from Musharraf.

Why should the US take these steps? The authors argue that it is not in the US interest to support an unstable military dictatorship and that free elections in Pakistan would yield a “moderate, pro-Western, anti-extremist government.” Moreover, the authors see clear parallels between Musharraf’s Pakistan and Marcos’ Philippines. If the US took a stand for democracy in Pakistan as it did towards Marcos, isn’t it possible that the world could witness the same positive “people power” ending to the unrest in Pakistan?

While I have the utmost respect for the ICG’s work, I read these types of policy prescriptions as an American and feel frustrated. I realize that the ICG is trying to persuade this administration and this congress to work with the cards that have been dealt and do something constructive. Yet, even if it is for the right reasons, doesn’t this policy perpetuate the endless US foreign policy cycle of using military dollars to blackmail weaker countries?

Using US military dollars to blackmail a leader to “do the right thing,” while appealing as a quick fix to our national guilt at having funded such a repressive regime in the first place, holds out little hope for achieving a sustainable solution for what ails Pakistan (look at the state of the Philippines 20 years after Marcos…). Moreover, would the authors be as quick to support this policy of democratic blackmail if the polling data indicated that the majority of Pakistanis supported extremist candidates? If not, what does this say about the US commitment to the principles of democratic governance? If you argue that US foreign policy should not be guided by democratic principles, then what is the recommended road map? Narrowly defined national interests? Well, that is what got us into this mess in the first place.

Of course, there are no easy answers to how the US can play a constructive role that would serve the human security needs of the Pakistanis while still being consistent with US values and security interests. Foreign policy is always about trade-offs and tough choices. Given how deeply entwined the US has become with Musharraf’s regime, any policy short of this blunt blackmail attempt would be viewed as more coddling by the Bush administration towards its key ally in the war on terror and the time for coddling is over.

So, in this case, I hope the US Congress does step up to the plate and propose legislation along these ICG suggested lines in order to hold the President’s foreign policy towards Pakistan accountable. Yet, in doing so, let us not delude ourselves into thinking that these actions will enhance US foreign policy credibility in Pakistan or abroad. It will simply perpetrate the US image as global “puppetmaster,” an image that has been destructive to our international reputation and global security.

Can the US break this cycle? That will be the topic of another rant, another day. Clearly new leadership is crucial. Barrack Obama talks the talk, but can he walk the walk?

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