6 November 2007
Protesting lawyers, students and other civilians staged pitched battles with riot police in cities across Pakistan Monday, the third day of the martial law regime imposed by the country’s military strongman General Pervez Musharraf.
Even as the protests mounted and Pakistan’s jails were filled to overflowing with thousands of political prisoners dragged off of the streets or from their homes, the Bush administration signaled that it will not take any substantive reprisals against the regime in Islamabad.
Speaking at the White House Monday following a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Bush summed up his administration’s position in remarks characterized by his usual ignorance and cynicism.
“Our hope is that he will restore democracy as quickly as possible,” Bush said of Musharraf. He claimed that in discussions with the Pakistani regime his administration had “made it clear that these emergency measures would undermine democracy.”
But he quickly added that “President Musharraf has been a strong fighter against extremists and radicals,” and that “All we can do is continue to work with the president.”
Asked whether he would order a cut in US aid to Pakistan—which amounts to some $150 million a month, totaling close to $11 billion since September 2001— if Musharraf did not rescind martial law, Bush dismissed the question as “a hypothetical.”
Bush’s remarks echoed those of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Speaking in Jerusalem, Rice declared: “We are going to review aid. But we do have concerns, continuing counter-terrorism concerns, and we have to be able to protect American citizens by continuing to fight against terrorists.”
Rice reiterated this position twice, declaring that the primary concern of the White House was “to protect America and protect American citizens by continuing to fight against terrorists,” and adding, “We have to be very cognizant of the fact that some of the assistance that has been going to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission.”
And, while the Pentagon announced that it canceled a trip to Pakistan by Eric Edelman, US undersecretary of defense for policy, who was to head a US delegation for annual talks with the Pakistani military, Gates also stressed that aid would continue to flow.
Washington was “mindful not to do anything that would undermine counterterrorism efforts,” Gates stressed.
Islamabad clearly got the message. According to the New York Times Monday, aides to Musharraf described the US response as “muted.” Speaking of Washington’s attitude, Tariq Azim Khan, Pakistan’s minister of state for information, said, “They would rather have a stable Pakistan—albeit with some restrictive norms—than have more democracy prone to fall into the hands of extremists. Given the choice, I know what our friends would choose.”
According to a report in the Washington Post Monday: “A close adviser to Musharraf said Sunday that the president’s inner circle believed that before he issued the order, the United States and Britain had grudgingly accepted the idea of emergency rule, despite earlier objections. He said he did not expect any action against Musharraf by the West. ‘When we convinced them that it would only be for a very short time, they said, Okay,’ the adviser said.”
Of course, it is precisely the so-called “war on terrorism” that Musharraf invoked as the pretext for his Saturday night martial law decree suspending the Constitution, sacking the Supreme Court, shutting down the independent media and indefinitely postponing parliamentary elections set for next January.