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Why Musharraf?

The alleged terrorist plot uncovered in Germany has an interesting connection to another country: two of the suspects, both German converts to Islam, were said to have gone to Pakistan for training. This merely confirms what we already know—that, as the National Intelligence Estimate released in July put it, al Qaeda has found “a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas.”

And that raises an interesting question: Why is the Bush administration so attached to Pervez Musharraf, the dictator of Pakistan who is supposed to be fighting terrorism, but is in fact allowing his country to become one of the top terrorist havens in the world?

Rajan Menon, a smart political scientist, has an interesting article on this topic in the Los Angeles Times. He writes:

The Bush administration’s problem in Pakistan is that it has had a Musharraf policy but not one that engages the interests and aspirations of Pakistan’s citizenry. Pakistanis may have welcomed Musharraf in 1999 when, as army chief, he overthrew the inept and corrupt government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but that enthusiasm has evaporated.

Menon goes on to suggest that it is a mistake for the Bush administration to try to keep Musharraf in power by helping to broker a power-sharing deal with opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. No government will be seen as legitimate, Menon argues, if it is viewed as having been installed at American instigation. “The administration’s best course of action in Pakistan is inaction,” Menon counsels. “Let Pakistanis find a solution to their crisis. Any made-in-America remedy will not only fail to make matters better, it will make them worse.”

There’s a lot to be said for that argument, though the U.S. can’t be totally hands-off about a country that has turned into a major terrorist refuge. But certainly we should take Menon’s advice to stop propping up Musharraf and to start supporting free and fair elections. Though most Pakistanis are suspicious of the United States, they are also hostile to Islamic extremists. As Menon rightly notes, “The vast majority do not support the agenda of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their local acolytes, and have never voted for the Islamist political parties in overwhelming numbers.”



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