May 19, 2007Foreign Affairs

No colours for the revolution in Pakistan

America is ignoring the popular movement against Musharraf to its own disadvantage

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

PostGlobal’s Amar Bakshi is going around the world, lugging a laptop and a camcorder, to get a sense of how people in different countries view America. If he ever makes it to Pakistan, he’s likely to find a country where anti-Americanism is rife. Pakistanis have genuine reasons to hold a negative opinion of American foreign policy—though not necessarily for the reasons Americans may be inclined to believe. Right now, they have little reason to nurse good feelings towards America, given Washington’s determined refusal to demonstrate the smallest amount of sympathy for democracy and freedom in the ongoing confrontation between the people and the dictator.

As Manjeet Kripalani, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote:

It is vital that the United States recognize this as a legitimate and broad-based secular democracy movement in Pakistan — isn’t this what America wants for the Muslim world?

And Washington would at last be able to expand its friendship, currently restricted to just one Pakistani — Musharraf — to the 160 million other Pakistanis who want to lead a life of dignity in their own country and on the international stage.[CFR/IHT]US policy towards Pakistan is in rigor mortis. Almost six years after 9/11, the substantial failure of the pact with Gen Musharraf is plain for everyone to see. Osama bin Laden remains at large, the Taliban are back in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, the A Q Khan network is believed to be in operation and the one thing the deal was supposed to avoid—severe political instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan—is at hand. Yet, the United States shows no signs of making some deft corrections to its Pakistan policy.

America’s handling of the popular movement against Gen Musharraf’s dictatorship fits a pattern. If it’s not our son of a bitch” facing a protesting crowds, then you have a colour revolution”, televised for international audiences. Spokesmen from various US government departments express sympathy for the struggle for democracy. But if it is our son of a bitch”, then Washington maintains silence in public, and hopes for a palace coup in private. Better that a dictator is replaced by another, than allow the mob on the streets to cause a new regime to be installed. There is some merit in this approach, especially if it can achieved along with a democratic veneer, but it is also one which America will be unable to take credit for. You won’t, for instance, find too many Pakistanis thankful to America for the elections in 1988 that brought Benazir Bhutto to power, would you?

America must show greater sympathy and support for the mass movement against Musharraf. But not merely to become popular with the Pakistani people. Rather because, as Rohit Pradhan argues, the stable, moderate Pakistan that is crucial for international security is impossible unless it is also democratic.

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