Since 9/11, the United States has placed greater importance on backing a Pakistani leader who will fight Islamic terrorism than on encouraging democracy for that troubled nation. The result is a country that is no more democratic and is now dangerously unstable.
Elections that were delayed after the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto are scheduled to be held Feb. 18, but there is every indication that they will be neither free nor fair. So far, the run-up to the elections has featured intimidation of candidates and voters, improperly prepared voter rolls, draconian restrictions on the media and an electoral commission that has failed to resolve or even to investigate the 1,378 complaints pending before it.
Should irregularities occur on election day, as they are sure to do, the outcome cannot be peaceably adjudicated because President Pervez Musharraf last year sacked the Supreme Court chief justice and at least 40 other independent-minded judges, replacing them with men who can be counted on to count the votes the way they’re told. The outcome is likely to be more violence and unrest.
Fortunately, U.S. officials have a great deal of leverage with Musharraf, who has far less support among his army and his people than he has inside the Bush administration. Moreover, because many Pakistanis believe that the United States controls every sparrow that falls in their country, we will be blamed should we fail to use our influence to forestall the type of election-rigging that occurred in 2002. Here is what our elected representatives can do now:
President Bush should tell Musharraf that unless he takes steps to correct the glaring electoral irregularities, he can no longer count on U.S. support after a contested election. Bush should specifically demand that Musharraf replace the election commission, whose members are widely viewed as either corrupt, incompetent or both, with a balanced panel that includes opposition figures. Bush should also insist that media restrictions be lifted and that international election monitors be given unfettered access.
House and Senate leaders, particularly the Republicans, whom Musharraf considers more friendly, and those who sit on the committees that control U.S. aid to Pakistan, should write a similar open letter. They include Sens. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), and Reps. Tom Lantos (D-Burlingame), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine).
And the leading presidential candidates should tell American voters why the prospect of a stolen Pakistani election should matter to us, and insist that Musharraf prevent it.
This is the Los Angeles Times editorial of January 26, 2008