Clear the air

THE White House received a very special guest this weekend. President Musharraf of Pakistan has had an extraordinary relationship with the US president George W Bush in the past four years.

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Published: Mon 6 Dec 2004, 10:44 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:12 AM

What began as a ‘working arrangement’ between Islamabad and Washington after the apocalyptic events of 9/11 soon turned into a passionate affair. After that dramatic call from US secretary of state Colin Powell in September of 2001, Pakistan effected a 180-degree turnaround in its external and internal policies. It not only lost no time in abandoning the Taleban in Afghanistan, Pakistan threw its weight completely behind the US-led ‘war on terror’. Pakistan soon emerged as closest of the US allies as it fought Washington’s battle at home and the frontline along Afghanistan.

The US in turn has been magnanimous in its acknowledgement of Pak support. Washington not only rescued the country’s shaky economy through debt relief initiatives and massive financial aid, it restored the military-ruled Pakistan’s place in the comity of nations. However, if any one individual benefited most from this rare proximity to Washington, it’s Musharraf himself. The US support phenomenally boosted his career prospects and political longevity. Flaunting the White House support card, the good general has been able to stabilise himself at home and marginalise his political opponents.

Now that Musharraf is finding himself yet again besieged at home, he’s gone to seek Washington’s blessings. Apparently, the Pak leader is worried whether the US president will persist with his policy toward Pakistan in his second coming. The general’s concern is not without basis. President Bush has lately been talking tough on the military involvement in political affairs promising to ‘deal with dictators’.

Notwithstanding Bush’s lavish praise for the General yesterday and Pakistan’s role in crackdown on extremism, the US has been pushing for the restoration of popular democracy and reviving the country’s political system. While Washington is all praise for Islamabad’s cooperation in the terror war, it has made it clear to Pakistan’s leadership that democracy and the question of dealing with extremism are separate issues. Washington may not be averse to Musharraf’s continuation in power, but it would like real political players back in action. The release of opposition leader Asif Zardari and Musharraf’s unusual telephone call to former prime minister and his bete noire Nawaz Sharif should be seen against this backdrop.

We hope Washington’s pressure leads to reviving genuine democracy and political process in Pakistan. The country has been on artificial support of the military for far too long. It’s time for it to get some fresh air — and some life. Only transparency and genuine democratic process can rid Pakistan of its problems and prepare it for the future.

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