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Conservative Review Our Man in Islamabad

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              THE CONSERVATIVE REVIEW   
                   February 22, 2008
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Our Man in Islamabad
By Robert D. Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Overwhelming repudiation of President 
Pervez Musharraf by Pakistan's voters did not immediately 
dilute the Bush administration's support for him. On the 
contrary, the first election returns were barely in Monday 
night when the U.S. government began pressing victorious 
opposition leaders not to impeach the former military 
strongman.

Publicly, State Department spokesman Tom Casey reminded 
that Musharraf "is still the president of Pakistan" and 
expressed hope "whoever winds up in charge of the new 
government would be able to work with him." Privately, U.S. 
diplomats pushed hard against any effort to dislodge the 
now retired army general who had just suffered public re-
jection, unprecedented in Pakistan's 60 years, from the 
office he retained last year by nefarious means. 

The United States had guessed wrong again in pinning hopes 
on an authoritarian, anti-democratic foreign leader. 
Musharraf follows the pattern of South Korea's Syngman 
Rhee, the Shah of Iran and Ferdinand Marcos of the 
Philippines, all of whom went into exile after public re-
jection. But Musharraf remains "our man in Islamabad," 
counted on by Washington to battle Islamist terrorists -- 
including Osama bin Laden -- despite his inconstant effort.

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Foggy Bottom's stubborn policymakers are frozen in an 
irrelevant mindset, dating back to their effort last year 
to broker a shared partnership between Musharraf as pres-
ident and the assassinated Benazir Bhutto as prime minis-
ter. In her posthumous memoir ("Reconciliation: Islam, 
Democracy and the West") published this week, Bhutto de-
tailed Musharraf's perfidy in reneging on power-sharing 
agreements made with her in two meetings last year. In-
stead, he engineered his election as president by a lame-
duck parliament, purged the judiciary, imposed martial law 
and refused to resign from the army until virtually forced 
by Washington.

Since Bhutto's murder, Assistant Secretary of State Richard 
Boucher has antagonized Pakistan's opposition leaders by 
insisting Musharraf was committed to a "good" election while 
in fact voting rolls were being rigged. Minimal election-
day vote fraud is attributed to Musharraf's weakness rather 
than strength. The army refused its cooperation needed to 
really steal votes. According to Pakistani sources, the army 
high command was alarmed that Musharraf's unpopularity had 
undermined public esteem for the military.

These changes apparently escaped the U.S. embassy in 
Islamabad, which on election eve reported to Washington 
that Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Q would do well 
enough to force a coalition government. Vote rigging prob-
ably cost the opposition 25 seats, mainly in Baluchistan -- 
not enough to prevent a two-thirds majority by opposition 
parties that could vote impeachment in the lower house. 

Officials of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) say 
that while Musharraf deserves impeachment, they would not 
move against him if he showed any humility. But the gener-
al has not departed from his habitual arrogance, even at 
the moment of humiliation.

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In "Reconciliation" (concluded shortly before her death), 
Bhutto was careful to avoid an anti-American posture, but 
still details Washington's long record of support for Pak-
istan's military regimes that overturned democratically 
elected leaders. I must report that my late partner Rowland 
Evans and I followed that line of reasoning as necessary 
to enlist Pakistan as an ally against the Soviet Union in 
the Cold War.

This outlook by government has persisted in the war against 
Islamist terrorism, though it has been increasingly clear 
that Musharraf would not vigorously pursue that conflict. 
I was impressed when I talked to Bhutto in New York last 
summer to find her committed against the extremists inside 
Pakistan in a way Musharraf never has been. "The core of my 
being a Muslim," she wrote in her posthumous memoir, "re-
jects those using Islam to justify acts of terror to pervert, 
manipulate and exploit religion, for their own political 
agenda."

Those sentiments reflect how much Benazir Bhutto will be 
missed. Her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, succeeding her as 
PPP leader, will not take the prime minister's post. Who-
ever does head the new Pakistani government cannot be 
counted on to pursue the risky course of closing madrassa 
schools and fighting al-Qaida in tribal lands that Bhutto 
promised. No Pakistani expects help from Musharraf, repud-
iated by the public and not backed by the army now that he 
has removed his uniform. Only the State Department still 
takes him seriously. 

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