As Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf completes what is being called his second coup eliminating opposition through emergency powers and consolidating the strong grip on rule he first seized in 1999 it's hard to remember when Pakistan wasn't overthrowing its rulers. The Times' editorial board has criticized both Pakistani and American leadership throughout the complex relationship between Washington and Islamabad. Generally the board supported democratic governments particularly ones led by the oft-ousted, oft-elected Benazir Bhutto though it was happy to see corrupt ones go, even if at the hands of a military leader.
The editorial board noted an early hint of U.S.-Pakistan rift on Jan. 29, 1962. As next-door neighbor India was busy fighting China in a border conflict, it was Pakistan wondering whether western countries were worthy allies, rather than vice versa:
Turning Our Back on Pakistan Pakistan is wondering out loud about the wisdom of continuing to cooperate with the United States and the Western defense alliance. Ayub Khan's government has remained loyally aligned with the West, while India has never missed an opportunity to kick the West in the teeth, or to "explain" and condone the Red bloc's machinations. [ ] Pakistan has proposed to let the United Nations examine the whole Kashmir dispute, which seems reasonable. Indeed, the Pakistanis have been reasonable beyond the limits of self-interest. Their claims to Kashmir are much more valid than India's. Kashmir's population is 80% Moslem, and would undoubtedly vote for union with Pakistan in a free election. Pakistan naturally counted on U.S. and British support in the United Nations. What they got was nothing, in spades.
The board found it unsurprising when Pakistan cut its overt link to the U.S., writing on Jul. 8, 1962:
Pakistan Leaves Us for Neutralism It comes hard to blame the Pakistanis for breaking off their affair with the United States. Pakistan has given the United States whole-hearted support from Korea on, siding with us in hot and cold crises. We have failed to back Pakistan as stoutly in the dispute with India over Kashmir. India's Nehru has broken his pledged word to allow a decision by plebiscite in Kashmir. He has temporized, brushed off the recommendations of neutral commissions, and still hangs on to the province.
But the board backtracked only months later, on Nov. 29, 1962 annoyed with Pakistani opposition to aid to India:
Pakistan Should Have a Third Thought Pakistan creates difficulty by throwing tantrums over U.S. aid to India at this juncture. Pakistan has nothing to fear from this development. The United States would not permit India to turn on Pakistan with these U.S. arms, even if India were not fully occupied with the Chinese threat. Pakistan's strong hints that the Khan government will resign from SEATO and reach an accord with Red China constitute dangerous nonsense. President Khan might consider that the United States has been generous to Pakistan, even if our stand on Kashmir has been indecisive and annoying. Certainly Pakistan prejudices its own case in thus fishing in troubled waters, when a successful Chinese foray into India would also menace Pakistan, even if Khan concludes a friendship treaty with Mao. That wouldn't stop the Chinese.
Three years later, after a second Indo-Pakistani war, on Dec. 17, 1965, the board realized that the "tantrum" had morphed into a major geopolitical shift. Pakistan warmed up to Communist China shortly after that country's dispute with India, which was at the time still reaping the benefit of trouble-free American aid ties:
The Course of U.S.-Pakistan Ties Pakistan's drift toward China was certainly a major topic of the talks. Pakistan says it was forced into closer relations with China as a result of U.S. military support of India beginning in 1962. But this does little to explain Pakistan's occasionally strident anti-American line, particularly in regard to events in Southeast Asia.
Writing on Jan. 4, 1972, after another Indo-Pakistani war one closely related to Bangladesh's successful struggle for independence the board offered cautious praise for Pakistani leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for releasing a Bangladeshi leader from prison. Cautious praise barring a few excited moments at the rare scandal-free election (see below) became the standard tone for a positive Pakistan editorial.
Bhutto Takes a Sensible Step What Bhutto seems to have concluded is that [Bangladeshi secessionist leader] Mujib [Rahman, locked up in Pakistan, was of no use to anyone. Free and in power in Bangladesh, he would be the best hope for moderate rule, stability and perhaps some eventual restoration of ties with Pakistan. It is too early for Bhutto to acknowledge publicly that East Pakistan is lost for good, though almost certainly he is ready to accept this as a fact. Probably the most he can expect over the long term is some form of association between the two Moslem states on India's flanks. Mujib is more likely to see some sense in this idea that some of the Bengali extremists who were brought to prominence by the war, and whose influence has been growing in Mujib's absence.
Within weeks, on Jan. 28, 1972, the Times took a broader look at events in South Asia, now blaming the U.S. for stoking the rise of the Soviet Union's influence in the region by condemning India for aggression but not Pakistan. It wouldn't be the last time the board criticized strong-arm leadership in Pakistan or accused the U.S. of going easy on an important geopolitical ally:
It's Time to Recognize Bangladesh American policy has involved an assortment of ambiguities in the months since March, when the now deposed Pakistan president, Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, used bayonets to have the last word in Pakistan's first popular election. In the course of events, the United States chose to ignore one of the greatest acts of genocide in recent history and equivocated flagrant violations of basic democratic rights. The United States spoke with clarity only in condemning India's aggression against East Pakistan. From this confusion, the Soviet Union emerged with new strength and prestige in Asia.
The board again observed the power-grabbing tactics of Pakistani leaders five years later, on Jul. 7, 1977 but it actually praised a military leader for cleaning up a civilian regime:
Pakistan Awaits a Rebirth Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a talented but volatile politician, had invited his own downfall by coming to rely increasingly on the military for the maintenance of control in the face of mounting civil strife. The strife followed elections last March that returned Bhutto to office in a landslide victory that his political opponents charged was due to voter fraud.[ ] Ziaul Haq makes no claim that the military can rule better than the politicians, nor, in the light of experience, would he have any right to. But the civilians must also show that they can do better than they have done in the past, if democratic government is in fact to be reborn in Pakistan.
The board may have been glad to see Bhutto go, but it didn't want to see him dead, as it made clear on Feb. 7, 1979:
Bhutto: It Shouldn't Happen Bhutto could go to the gallows in a week. In the interest of justice, and in Pakistan's own interests, Zia should not permit that to happen.[ ] Bhutto's volatile rule of nearly six years left him much to answer for in Pakistan. But he should not have to answer with his life. He remains, faults or not, the most popular political figure in the country of 75 million. Even under the repressive conditions that now prevail imposed by a regime pledged to curb the political excesses of the Bhutto years the execution of Bhutto could well set off outbreaks of bloody violence. Pakistan does not need upheaval; it has grievous problems enough without more bloodshed. If not compassion and justice, then certainly self-interest dictates that Bhutto's life be spared.
Zia ul-Haq didn't heed the board's advice. But when he died in a mysterious plane crash, the board still wasn't pleased, as it wrote on Aug. 18, 1988:
Pakistan: a Changing Picture Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq was a brutal politician who hanged his predecessor, ordered his opponents flogged, called and then canceled elections on whim and seemed unable to tolerate any semblance of democracy. And yet, now that he is dead, the world may be a more dangerous place. After seizing power in a 1977 military coup, Zia had such a stranglehold on Pakistan that his stunned countrymen are uncertain just what the future will bring. Like most dictators, the general never groomed a successor; in fact, he aggravated the power vacuum three months agoby dismissing Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo and the first civilian government since the coup. Now there is concern that the armed forces will assert themselves, declare martial law and suspend the national elections that Zia had called for November. But it is encouraging that, as of late Wednesday, Zia's underlings were living up to the terms of the Constitution, and the head of the Senate, the next in line, had been named acting president.
Only a few months later, on Nov. 19, 1988, the board praised Pakistan's successful elections and transfer of power.
Breakthrough in Pakistan In keeping with Islamic practice, men and women voted separately in this week's national election in Pakistan, but nothing else about it was the least bit traditional. By far the most orderly, peaceful and fraud-free election in Pakistan's 41 year history, it will set a standard for the rest of the developing world and should move Pakistan one step closer to democracy after more than a decade of dictatorial rule. And the election may yet bring to power the Muslim world's first woman prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, if she is able to forge a ruling coalition from her party's 92-seat plurality in the National Assembly. Bhutto praised the people of Pakistan for keeping the election clean and free of the violence that has marred previous elections, but she clearly deserves some of the credit.
Bhutto wasn't the brilliant leader the board had hoped she would be, but on Aug. 12, 1990, the board greeted her ouster with some pessimism about Pakistan's democratic progress.
What If She Wins Again? Twenty months after voters swept Benazir Bhutto into office as Pakistan's prime minister, she has been tossed out of government by the country's president. Her ouster was sudden, unceremonious and entirely constitutional. But it was a step backward in Pakistan's long, difficult march toward democracy. No doubt Bhutto left a lot to be desired as a leader and administrator. But that's a large and unexclusive club in the world today. Bhutto has said she will participate in the Oct. 24 elections and she should. It might even be a good lesson for the generals if she won.
When Bhutto did get her leadership back, the board was pleased, and set its hopes high on Oct. 25, 1993:
Pakistan Needs Reform Will the second time around be the charm? Yes, Benazir Bhutto is back. The first woman to lead a Muslim state in modern times has assumed the post of prime minister of Pakistan again. This time she has even more to prove. Internationally, she has already exacerbated frayed relations with the United States by vowing to continue Pakistan's controversial nuclear weapons program. Not a terrific start, but Bhutto's second chance, if the new prime minister so chooses, could still be Pakistan's big chance.
And then Bhutto went out again. The board responded on Nov. 6, 1996, this time offering harsh words for Pakistan's military's leadership legacy:
New Peril in a Shaky Pakistan Dismissal of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto threatens the strategic South Asian nation's shaky hold on democracy once again. But if Bhutto accomplished little for Pakistan during her latest term in office, the army will not do more. It should stay in the barracks.[ ] The army has run the impoverished nation for about half the 49 years since it gained independence from Britain. The army has a record of corruption as poor as that of civilian governments, and its share of the budget has strained Pakistan's finances. The military has trained guerrillas to fight in Afghanistan and lost three wars with India. Because both India and Pakistan are thought capable of assembling nuclear weapons, the state of their relationship is of great concern to all nations.
The board lowered its expectations for Bhutto's successor, another former prime minister anyone see a dismal pattern? kicked out for corruption. The board serves up the complicated history on Feb. 17, 1997:
A Dubious Transfer of Power Pakistani voters have returned a familiar face to the prime minister's chair. Nawaz Sharif, booted out of office in 1993 for corruption, has returned to power. He has a chance to surprise some people this time, if only because expectations for his performance are so low. Sharif served three years of a five-year term before being ousted. Subsequent elections returned Benazir Bhutto to the prime minister's office. Unfortunately, her stint produced even more allegations of corruption than Sharif's and more than those of her first term. In a depressingly familiar scenario, Pakistan's president removed her last November and ordered the Feb. 3 elections . It would be a pleasant surprise to have a prime minister serve a full five-year term. No Pakistani has been able to do it thus far.
And unfortunately, Sharif couldn't do it either. Pakistan's current leader, Pervez Musharraf, came to power in 1999, and the board reacted on Oct. 13, sounding an ominous note.
Pakistan Coup a Risk for Region For nearly half of its 52-year history Pakistan has been ruled by the army. It now appears the army intends to rule again. Moving swiftly, the military has ousted the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, just hours after Sharif announced he was dismissing the powerful army chief of staff. Sharif's firing of army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf triggered the coup, which for the moment appears to command considerable public support. It is an all too familiar story. But this time the military takeover has implications that extend beyond Pakistan's borders. Pakistan, like its rival India, has now tested nuclear devices.
More coup commentary followed on Oct. 26, 1999:
Pakistan's Aborted Rebirth Two weeks after seizing power in a coup, Pakistan's new leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has not even mentioned a timetable for returning the country to civilian rule. Yes, army leaders' promises are not always kept. When Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq seized power in 1977, he said he'd relinquish the reins in 90 days, then stayed on for more than a decade, until he was killed in an airplane crash thought to have been engineered by his by his political enemies. Now Gen. Musharraf, Pakistan's new military strongman, owes the Pakistanis something more than vague promises to lead the country back to democratic rule. Building a true, deep-rooted democracy in Pakistan will be a tough job, one for which the army is ill-suited.
And sounding a familiar theme that the board has taken up no matter whether Pakistan was under civilian or military rule, a Nov. 25, 1999 editorial comments on corruption:
Attacking Pakistan's Corruption The old joke said the only way Pakistan managed to duck the No. 1 ranking among the world's most corrupt countries was by bribing Nigeria to take its place. But for most Pakistanis, corruption still is no joke. Last week the leader of Pakistan's Oct. 12 army coup stepped up a commendable crackdown on the high-level thievery that has cost the nation billions of dollars. His challenge will be to press the campaign, a task previous Pakistani regimes failed to complete. Gen. Pervez Musharraf jailed the democratically elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. Then his regime warned that those who had defaulted on billions in direct government loans and government-backed loans would have to pay them back.
Despite being worried about the impacts of a coup for Pakistan, on March 10, 2000, the board praised President Bill Clinton for being the first president to visit the country since Jimmy Carter:
Isolating Pakistan Won't Work President Clinton is right to make a brief stop in Pakistan this month on his long overdue visit to South Asia. Snubbing the country because of last October's military coup would be counterproductive. The president should make clear to Gen. Pervez Musharraf that the military's ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is unacceptable and that Washington expects the general to order new elections as soon as possible and return the army to its barracks.
Nineteen days later the board maintained that Clinton's visit wasn't a tacit acceptance of Musharraf.
The Next Move Is Pakistan's President Clinton's visit to South Asia last week provided fresh evidence of Washington's seesaw relationships there, with India moving up and Pakistan down. The trip produced little if any reduction in tensions between two nuclear-capable neighbors, but the candor was refreshing . Clinton spent four days in India, and not much longer than four hours in Pakistan. That was appropriate. His visit to Islamabad did nothing to legitimize the army takeover of last October, even if Musharraf chooses to interpret it that way.
And then came 9/11. Pakistan announced its support of the U.S., and the U.S. took it. The Times described the difficult diplomatic maneuvering for leaders of both countries on Sept. 20, 2001:
Pakistan's Tightrope The Pakistani president's defense Wednesday of his offer to assist the United States in finding terrorist Osama bin Laden was a skillful tightrope walk. He navigated between U.S. demands on one hand and Islamic hard-liners at home on the other. If the U.S. winds up using Pakistan as a staging area for air and ground attacks on neighboring Afghanistan, home to Bin Laden and site of his training camps, it will owe a debt to an impoverished nation. Repaying that debt will require deft maneuvering.
Months later, on Jan. 15, 2002, when the Iraq war was just a glimmer in President Bush's eye and the Taliban seemed well-routed from Afghanistan, the board returned to "cautious praise" for Musharraf.
Pakistan's Moderation Since seizing power in a bloodless coup more than two years ago, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been leading his nation out of the camp of Islamic extremism. He speeded up the process in a speech after Sept. 11, announcing a break with the Taliban and warning that Pakistan's survival would be jeopardized if it opposed the United States. Last Saturday, with Pakistan on a war footing in its conflict with neighboring India, he moved a step further and pledged to crack down on Islamic radicals. Both of the televised speeches were courageous, and their favorable reception by most Pakistanis should be an inspiration to moderate Muslims. U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who leaves today for a trip that includes Pakistan and India, called Musharraf's latest address "bold and principled."
The board was still more pleased with Pakistan on Feb. 13, 2002:
New Role for Onetime Pariah Six months ago, Pakistan was a pariah nation, creator of the Taliban regime in next-door Afghanistan and home to Islamic extremists. Today Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf visits the White House as the leader of a country moving back toward the international mainstream and preaching moderate Islam. [ ] Bush, who has often praised Musharraf for casting his lot with Washington after the September terror attacks, should say it again and say it loud: The United States' relationship with Pakistan is for the long run.
But that didn't stop the board from lamenting Musharraf's power grab on May 3, 2002:
A Loss in Musharraf's 'Win' But the general originally seen as a plain-talking soldier now appears the crafty politician bent on personal power. He has insisted that Parliament will serve at his pleasure, banned Sharif and another former prime minister from running for office and released many of the militants he had jailed. Only Musharraf appeared on the ballot in a yes-or-no vote he was certain to win. Even so, ballots were by all accounts rigged to inflate the turnout and margin of approval. Musharraf would do better by his nation if he served one more year, not five, and promoted a constitutional change to return more power to the elected Parliament. Then he could run for Parliament himself instead of presiding over another chapter of rule by strongman.
or from sounding the gong for democracy again on Aug. 23, 2002:
Democracy in Pakistan Too U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage is due in Pakistan this weekend. He should tell Musharraf that when the Bush administration proclaims its support for democracy around the world, it doesn't mean just in Iraq and Iran. Democracy should start with U.S. allies such as Pakistan.
On Nov. 29, 2002, the board expressed displeasure at Musharraf's expansion of presidential powers over the national assembly, but not over terrorists:
Pakistan: Rein In Terrorists The civilian government that took office in Pakistan last weekend is supposed to replace the military rule that began with President Pervez Musharraf's coup three years ago. But looking over the shoulder of the new prime minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, will be Musharraf, who rewrote the constitution this year so he can dismiss the national assembly, should it displease him. Musharraf also made it difficult for secular opposition parties to field candidates in October elections, at least temporarily diluting opposition to him but also clearing the way for the religious parties to increase their political power. True democracy is far in the distance. But more worrisome right now is a revolving door for jailed terrorists.
But the event that seemed to scale back any warmth the board had for Pakistan was the discovery that Pakistani scientists had sold nuclear designs. On Jan. 28, 2004, the board accused Musharraf of lying:
Pakistan and Proliferation Musharraf said last week that top Pakistani scientists seem to have sold nuclear designs "for personal financial gain," but he denied that any government or military officials were involved. That is not a believable assertion. For much of Pakistan's history since 1947, the military and government have been one and the same, directly involved in all aspects of the nuclear program. Musharraf himself seized power in a military coup in 1999. Pakistan's army rule stifles development of civilian institutions judiciary, the media, political parties that might have blown the whistle on the accused nuclear transfers.
and demanded honest answers on Feb. 9, 2004:
Pakistan Owes U.S. Answers Musharraf's pardon of Khan may short-circuit complaints from hard-line Muslims and other Musharraf opponents that he has torn down a man whose scientific exploits made Pakistan secure against India and gave an Islamic nation the bomb. Islamic radicals are the prime suspects in two attempts to assassinate Musharraf in December. His enemies accused him of caving in to Washington after Sept. 11, 2001, when he ended Pakistan's support for the Taliban in next-door Afghanistan. The same foes charge him now with knuckling under to U.S. pressure in investigating Khan. But if Washington is publicly silent, it should be privately thundering for answers . Musharraf has to live up to his pledge to stop the nuclear leakage if he wants Pakistan to be seen, in the long run, as more than just another rogue nation.
A year later, on Jan. 9, 2005, Musharraf had become "just another general":
Just Another General But when 2005 arrived, there was the president on television, telling the nation he just couldn't take off the uniform yet: He needed to keep his army post so he could continue fighting terrorism. That argument is not totally specious Musharraf has twice survived assassination attempts by Islamic fundamentalists but unless he does a far better job of using his combined civilian and military posts to improve Pakistan's economy, educational system and political institutions, he'll be just the latest in the country's dismal list of generals who seized power and refused to let go. [...] The best thing for Pakistan now would be for him to let the PPP's leader, Benazir Bhutto, back into the country and let her party and the rival but also secular Pakistan Muslim League choose their own candidates in elections.
And two years later, on March 1, 2007, the board came up with a new metaphor for the tumultuous U.S.-Pakistan relationship:
Betting on Musharraf SINCE 9/11, THE United States has been trapped in an increasingly loveless marriage with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Like many a miserable mate, the Bush administration has been known to rue the failings of its partner in private. Yet it has always defended Musharraf in public, arguing that whatever his shortcomings, the alternative is far worse . The U.S. may well be destined for a long marriage of convenience with Pakistan. But its spouse need not necessarily be named Musharraf.
And within weeks, on March 20, the board readily started denouncing the U.S.'s disposable spouse:
With friends like this ... SUPPOSE THAT a supreme court justice in an unstable but pro-American country becomes unwilling to take his cues from the authoritarian government. He orders its intelligence services to answer charges that they are holding 100 citizens who have disappeared. He is widely believed to oppose a presidential scheme to get around a constitutional ban on running for reelection. The government suspends the justice and places him under house arrest. Street protests erupt, and government riot police using tear gas quell demonstrators, haul away opposition leaders and smash their way into a TV station that covers the controversy. How does the U.S. government react? .Bush is failing to live up to his own standard, acting instead very much under Cold War rules. The above example is from Pakistan last week.
It got worse from there. The board itemized all of Musharraf's failings as a leader and an ally on May 26:
Musharraf's follies Nearly eight years in a presidency whose powers he has steadily expanded have made Musharraf no more of a democrat than he was when he ousted an elected government in a 1999 military coup. He has since manipulated elections, circumvented the constitution to allow himself to maintain the dual posts of president and army chief of staff and struck unholy alliances with hard-line Islamists in Parliament while assuring his U.S. backers that he was cracking down on them. He has collected $8 billion to $10 billion in direct U.S. aid for the war on terror (and perhaps almost as much in covert aid) while losing ground to the Taliban in the tribal areas that are nominally under Islamabad's control. Terrified that Musharraf might be assassinated or overthrown by a fundamentalist Islamic regime that would inherit a nuclear arsenal, Washington has given the general the benefit of every doubt.
And on Aug. 10, the board, after months of disillusion at both Pakistan and Washington, seemed pleased at a moment of successful diplomacy between the two countries, not knowing that it was, indeed, a moment.
A well-timed nudge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at 2 a.m. Islamabad time Thursday. They spoke for 26 minutes an unusually long conversation. Though the State Department wouldn't and shouldn't reveal details, it's easy to guess Rice's message: "Don't do it." A day earlier, Musharraf was reported to be considering declaring a state of emergency, a move that conveniently would have delayed elections for a year. Hours later, a spokesman announced that the president had decided the situation was not severe enough to warrant an emergency decree that reportedly would also have cracked down on the media and the right to assembly. If the phone call helped deter Musharraf from what would have been a historic folly, then score one for preventive diplomacy.
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