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U.S. Officials Mull Pakistan Position

Author: Jayshree Bajoria
Updated November 6, 2007

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The United States responded cautiously to the November 3 news that Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf had declared a state of emergency, suspending the country's constitution and giving himself the right to rule by decree. President Bush called on Musharraf to hold elections and remove his military uniform as soon as possible. "Previous to his decision we made it clear that these emergency measures would undermine democracy," said Bush. The emergency prompted U.S. officials to announce they would review (Reuters) the terms of the foreign aid the United States provides Pakistan. But follow-up comments by officials in the Bush administration signalled substantial reductions of U.S. aid to Pakistan are not in the cards (NYT). Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said President Bush's first concern remained "to protect America" and added: "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."

According to the BBC, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Attorney General Malik Abdul Qayyum said parliamentary elections will be held as scheduled early next year. CFR Senior Fellow Daniel Markey called it a "very important and positive first step," in this recent interview. Markey said people tend to discount Musharraf 's efforts to fight terrorism but "if you look closely you will see that his effort within his own army to create an institution that was more resistant to those types of extremists has been very significant and very important." But CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Vali Nasr was less positive in a Christian Science Monitor op-ed, which says Musharraf's Pakistan has not lived up to expectations. "In Pakistan, there is now more violence, extremism, and instability than when Musharraf took over in 1999," he writes.

Meanwhile, Musharraf's announcement prompted protests in three Pakistani cities and a corresponding crackdown by Pakistani police (Dawn). Since Musharraf’s controversial reelection last month, the country has been in political flux awaiting a ruling on the legitimacy of the vote from the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who quickly condemned the general’s decree, has been replaced (BBC). Meanwhile, telephone lines in the capital went down and troops were deployed inside state-run TV and radio stations. Independent channels went off air (VOA).

The move came a day after United States warned (WashPost) Musharraf not to impose emergency rule or martial law in the country. But pressure on Musharraf to act decisively has been building as the court deliberated his reelection and violence increasingly spilled into areas not normally associated with the lawlessness and religious zealotry of the Pakistan-Afghan border region. Last week, intense clashes raged (IHT) between the militants and army troops in the Swat valley in North West Frontier Province. Late last month, bombings in Karachi targeted former prime minister Benazir  Bhutto as she returned from years in exile. Other bombs shook a district of Rawalpindi which houses the army’s headquarters.

CFR President Richard N. Haass, who traveled to Pakistan in October, told CFR.org last week “we’re seeing elements of what many are calling the ‘Talibanization’ of Pakistan.” This Backgrounder examines the challenges facing the central government in the so-called Tribal Areas along the northern border, and this interactive map examines the history of this anarchic region.

Musharraf’s declaration of emergency rule occurred while Bhutto was out of the country visiting her family in Dubai, and the popular former prime minister rushed back as soon as the degree was announced (NDTV). The United States had been hoping for a deal between Bhutto and Musharraf that would lend new legitimacy to his government and, ultimately, restore democracy in a country ruled by the general since he overthrew an elected government in a 1999 coup (BBC).

United States has been facing growing criticism for its support of Musharraf, as this recent CFR.org debate points out. But the Bush administration has banked heavily on Musharraf's ability to help control Taliban and Al Qaeda forces along the Afghan border, and the country's nuclear arsenal adds an extra level of urgency to anything concerning its stability. Calling Pakistan “arguably the most important partner of United States” in its struggle against global terrorist groups, U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns told a CFR meeting last month “what happens in that country (Pakistan) has a profound and direct impact on our country.”  

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