While Musharraf appears to be thrilled by the idea of George W. Bush visiting Pakistan and extolling his friendship with our Head Chowkidar, world attention is temporarily focused on Pakistan, much of it not to Musharraf’s advantage.
The Washington Post in a scathing anti-Musharraf editorial titled ‘A Message for Gen. Musharraf’ has this to say:
Gen. Musharraf clearly hopes to prolong his military regime indefinitely, while continuing to enjoy heavy political and economic support from an American president who has dedicated his administration to advancing democracy in the Muslim world… It's time for the United States to stop banking on this unreliable general and start planning for the democratic government that should succeed him.An aggressive op-ed The Japan Times opines:
If Bush really cares about Pakistan's future as a viable, modern nation-state, he should work to break its military's viselike grip on power. For a start, that means persuading Musharraf to give up his military office and hold free and fair elections.And then there is the New York Times editorial - Pointless Trip to Pakistan - criticizing Bush for cozying up to Musharraf:
Clearly, this is the perfect time for the American president to do some nurturing. Too bad the nurturing that seems to interest Mr. Bush is with Pakistan's military dictator, President Pervez Musharraf. General Musharraf has yet to permit the democratic elections he has repeatedly promised since his coup more than six years ago, but the Bush administration, which says it wants democracy in the Muslim world, has put little pressure on him for reform.
Then the UK Times didn’t spare him either.
[T]he real target of the demonstrations that have been going on, almost continually, for the past month is not the US President or even the publication of the notorious Danish cartoons; it is President Musharraf himself. Five years after he seized power in a bloodless coup with the declared intention to clean up corruption and punish venal politicians, the general is meeting increasing opposition.
In Baluchistan, a province rich in oil and gas, anger at the perceived failure to benefit from the export wealth has sparked a rebellion that is becoming more organised. A heavy-handed army attempt to crush the dissident tribesmen has only won them more support; President Musharraf’s openly voiced exasperation and threats have made a peaceful outcome more distant. In Sindh, the proposed construction of a large dam has stirred suspicion that neighbouring Punjabis are trying to steal “their” water. And in the tribal provinces bordering Afghanistan there is simmering resentment at the continuing army operations against the tribal kinsmen of the Afghan Taleban.
General Musharraf might, perhaps, have been able to weather these strains better had he not already antagonised the established political class, which he openly despises and to whom he appears to be in no hurry to return power. He has made no attempt to strike strategic alliances with either Benazir Bhutto’s People’s Party or with Nawaz Sharif, whom he deposed. He has not shared political power with others, has made no clear provision for the elections due next year and has designated no deputy who might take over from him.
This is a flawed strategy…The US President should use his brief visit to nudge his host into the first steps back to democracy. The general promised to hold power only as long as it took to cleanse the body politic. Five years is a long time to wait.
There are other stories – just from their headings one can work out that they are not particularly complimentary towards our Chowkidar sahib. Here are a couple of samples : Associated Press’sPakistan Proves an Awkward Ally to US ; San Francisco Chronicle’s Bush's Pakistan problem
The Boston newspaper Christian Science Monitor has a former US Diplomat proposing an itinerary for action in Pakistan for her much disliked president.
Bush's visit will provide him the opportunity to respond to these criticisms, especially on the democracy front. He has already taken the first step by stating in his predeparture speech to the Asia Society that the national elections scheduled for next year "will be an important test of Pakistan's commitment to democratic reform."
Those words in support of democracy in Pakistan should be reinforced by his actions during his visit. We recommend these steps:
Address the Pakistani parliament.
…This is the most meaningful tool we have to encourage an eventual return to real democracy. Bush should take time to meet with leaders of the political opposition, including the Islamist party coalition, the MMA, and secular parties.
Meet the press.
Although there are government attempts to manipulate and place certain restrictions on Pakistan's press...This would argue for a joint press conference, or better yet, for a meeting between the president and a small group of Pakistani editors including those from the major local language press.
Engage civil society.
Pakistan's civil society needs visibility and support if it is to play its role in laying the groundwork for a more democratic society... Bush should meet with a group of activists and philanthropists who have a track record of practical action.
Encourage Pakistani women's organizations.
Even more important than general purpose civil society organizations is US support for Pakistani women, and women's groups; this should be a central feature of the meeting with civil society. The government was embarrassed by the gang rape of Mukhtaran Mai, but its initial attempt to limit her visibility and travel unfortunately compounded the horror of the initial assault. Bush needs to meet with those individuals who have made a real contribution to improving the lives of Pakistan's poorest and most vulnerable women.
Drop by a school with Musharraf.
Musharraf, like Bush, sees himself as an "education president" and education is one of the most central issues determining Pakistan's future... Bush should announce a doubling in the $66 million per year the US is currently providing Pakistan in assistance in the education sector.
Bush will of course not bother pondering over any of this sensible but largely gratuitous advice. He is , of course, an ‘action-orientated warrior president’, one who ducked serving his own country during the Viet Nam war; instead opting to indulge in a lengthy period of cocaine and alcohol-sodden revelry.
According to BBC there are some 800 US security personnel in Pakistan protecting their President – who is, by and large, an unwelcome visitor. I wonder where in the world – with the possible exception of Australia – would any of the general public actually be pleased with getting a visit from George W. Bush?
Bush in Pakistan