Hindu Vivek Kendra
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The General's Broken Promise

The General's Broken Promise

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Washington Post
Date: May 15, 2002

Last January Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf delivered a highly promoted television address in which he promised to lead his divided and impoverished country in an entirely new direction. His aim, he said, was to create a modern, prosperous and democratic "Islamic welfare state"; to do that, he would purge the country of the Islamic extremism that had infected its politics, its schools and its armed forces. Terrorism, Mr. Musharraf declared, would no longer be tolerated, and militant groups that had waged war against India and its rule of Muslim Kashmir would no longer be supported. In the days after the speech, as police rounded up some 2,000 militants from five newly banned organizations, it seemed that Mr. Musharraf might really be determined to transform his country, defuse a mounting confrontation with India and turn a short-term alliance with the United States in Afghanistan into a long-term partnership.

Four months later, that hopeful prospect has largely dissipated. Most of the militants Mr. Musharraf had arrested are back on the streets, and there has been a string of sensational terrorist attacks against Westerners in Pakistani cities. Extremist religious schools are still operating. Guerrillas are once again infiltrating from Pakistan into Kashmir, prompting renewed talk of war between two nuclear-armed states that between them have 1 million troops deployed along their border. Mr. Musharraf may even be scaling back his cooperation with the U.S. military; according to a report in The Post by Thomas E. Ricks and Kamran Khan, Pakistan has refused to launch operations against concentrations of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters who have taken refuge in its western provinces.

Rather than pursue the courageous agenda he outlined, Mr. Musharraf has recently devoted himself to a counterproductive effort to consolidate power at the expense of Pakistani democracy. Last month he staged a one-sided referendum to extend his term as president for five years, an initiative that served to weaken rather than confirm his political authority. Now he is talking about imposing a military-dominated national security council to oversee future civilian governments. Pakistan's normally fractious political parties, media and civil society have united in opposition to these measures, virtually ensuring that Mr. Musharraf will be locked in a power struggle for the foreseeable future, not with Muslim extremists but with the very Pakistanis who most support a secular and democratic society.

Perhaps Mr. Musharraf believes he must strengthen his position before carrying out the promised reforms; more likely he finds it easier to take on journalists, civilian politicians and India than the Muslim extremists or those in his own military who insist on promoting an insurgency in Kashmir. In any case, his present course risks not only the ruin of his promise of reform but even greater disasters, including the resurgence of al Qaeda inside Pakistan, or war with India. The Bush administration embraced Mr. Musharraf last year after he pledged his support for the military campaign in Afghanistan; it showered him with economic aid and overlooked his bogus referendum. But it cannot continue to cling to him if he is to lead his regime over a cliff. Once again, as it did after Sept. 11, the administration must present the Pakistani president with a stark choice: Either he must act decisively against the extremists of al Qaeda and Kashmir, and implement the domestic reforms he promised, or lose the support of the United States.

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