Ever since 9/11 the Bush administration, while professing to champion the cause of democracy in the Muslim world, made an exception for the man George W. once called ‘my buddy’. Now, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the US has decided to change tack on the issue of Pakistan’s military dictatorship.
Only last month, after publicly dressing down his buddy while in Islamabad, the US president left our shores leaving behind an uncomfortably beleaguered Musharraf.
And now we have visiting US State Dept. officials openly airing opinions which directly clash with Musharraf and his plans of staying in power indefinitely.
As the Daily Times reported yesterday:
“We firmly believe in civilian rule and civilian control of military in Pakistan,” US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard Boucher said at a press conference after meeting President General Pervez General Musharraf. Asked if it is not a contradiction in US policy that while it supports a democratic society in Pakistan, it is silent on the issue of Gen Musharraf’s uniform, he said: “This (uniform) indeed is an issue. But we have to see how this issue is addressed by President Musharraf.”
Today, according to the Daily Times Richard Boucher had more to say.
US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher said on Thursday that the allowing of Nawaz Sharif and Benzair Bhutto to return to Pakistan to contest the 2007 general elections was of mutual concern to the country’s political parties and the government. In an interview with a private Pakistani television channel, Boucher linked their return to politics with the US vision of a free, modern and democratic Pakistan. He also confirmed having met the country’s chief election commissioner to assess the extent of Pakistan’s democratic process.This report also mentioned that the US was monitoring the Balochistan crisis, with Boucher implying that the BLA could not be called a ‘terrorist’ outfit as far Washington was concerned.
Moreover it was reported in several newspapers today that a senior White House official also made pronouncements on Pakistan and democracy.
As today’s Gulf Times in a report headed ‘US to ensure ‘free and fair’ Pak vote’ said:
White House national security advisor Stephen Hadley said yesterday that the US administration will work with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to ensure 2007 elections in his country are “free and fair”.
Hadley also said Washington “will encourage greater democratic reform and political freedom” in Pakistan in a speech to a forum of The National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) here, according to a White House transcript.
“Our strategy with Pakistan is to encourage President Musharraf to take steps that will integrate Pakistan into the international community and to offer greater economic and political freedom to his people,” the top foreign policy advisor of President George W Bush said.
“We will work with President Musharraf to ensure that the 2007 elections are free and fair,” Hadley said.
In light of these happenings here is an interesting analytical viewpoint from Stratfor, a leading consulting security/intelligence agency:
U.S. : Imagining a Pakistan Without Musharraf
The United States would like to see the Pakistani military come under civilian control, a U.S. State Department official said April 5. Along with a number of statements emanating from Washington regarding the government of Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf since U.S. President George W. Bush's March 4 trip to Islamabad, the official's statement indicates that the Bush administration is now imagining a Pakistan without Musharraf. This shift in Washington's thinking will create further domestic problems for the Pakistani leader -- his political opponents view the U.S. statements as a signal to intensify their efforts to oust Musharraf.
The United States looks forward to the day when Pakistan enjoys civilian rule and the country's military comes under civilian control, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher said April 5 at a press conference in Islamabad following a meeting with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Boucher also responded to a question about the apparent contradiction in how Washington pushes for democracy in the Muslim world while ignoring the issue of Musharraf's holding the dual portfolios of military chief and president. Boucher replied that this indeed is an issue, but that "we have to see how this issue is addressed by President Musharraf." He did express satisfaction at the progress toward democratization in the South Asian nation, however, and noted that the issue of a president in uniform was not an isolated one. "It is part of the overall democratic process, which is moving forward," he said.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said the Bush administration will work with Musharraf to ensure Pakistan's 2007 elections are "free and fair." The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice added while testifying before Congress on the U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear deal that Washington does not want to take on the role of mediator on the issue of Kashmir, saying India and Pakistan need to seek a bilateral solution to the dispute despite Islamabad's repeated calls on Washington to help pressure New Delhi into reaching a resolution to the issue.
These statements from the highest echelons of the Bush administration illustrate that the United States is no longer fixated on supporting Musharraf. This is probably because Musharraf's usefulness to the United States is fast becoming negligible. The principal reason the Bush administration supported the Musharraf regime was due to Pakistan's critical role in the U.S.-jihadist war. It would appear Washington believes it does not need Musharraf at the helm for the United States to continue to prosecute its struggle against militant Islamism, and no longer believes the Pakistani state would collapse without Musharraf.
Moreover, the Bush administration likely feels Musharraf is no longer able to keep domestic affairs in order, and sees pinning Washington's entire Pakistan policy on one individual as a liability. Thus, Washington has decided to put some distance between itself and the Pakistani president.
This does not mean Washington would like to see Musharraf ousted. Instead, it reflects a decision to initiate a contingency plan to avoid being caught off guard in light of political instability in Pakistan in the months ahead. Not supporting Musharraf the way it has before will allow Washington to ascertain potential alternative political players capable of stepping in and filling the void in the event Musharraf is no longer able to maintain his position.
Washington's statements will catalyze Pakistan's opposition political actors into accelerating their efforts to mobilize public support to oust the general from power; the opposition will view the U.S. statements as a sign that Musharraf is vulnerable because Washington is considering other options. This could result in a political upheaval leading to early elections, which under normal circumstances would be held in late 2007.
The first signs the Bush administration was trying to distance itself from the Musharraf regime appeared during Bush's March 4 visit to Islamabad, when Bush refused Pakistan's demand for a civilian nuclear deal comparable to the one extended to India. After inking a major deal on civilian nuclear technological exchange with New Delhi, Bush flew to Islamabad merely to say his trip to Pakistan had led him to believe Musharraf was indeed committed to the war on terror. Adding insult to injury, Bush pressed Musharraf on the need to move ahead toward democratizing the country.
While Musharraf's domestic woes appear to be worsening by the day, he now has problems from abroad as well. This will make him look increasingly weak on the home front, boosting the confidence of his Islamist and secular opponents, who will seize the opportunity to wage a campaign to try to force him from power. The outcome of this struggle depends upon how well the opposition parties are able to coordinate an anti-Musharraf campaign and the extent to which the Pakistani military views Musharraf as a liability. In any case, the Bush administration appears to have moved away from the notion that Pakistan is an exception to its overall push for democracy in the Muslim world.