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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A False Choice for Pakistan -By Salman Ahmad

As Pakistan descends into political chaos, much attention has been given to two leaders competing for power -- the current dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and the media-savvy former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. The White House appears to be backing Musharraf as its best bet in the "war on terror," while much of the world's media and Western liberal elite see Bhutto as a democratic savior for a country mired in Islamic fundamentalism.

We supported Musharraf because of his promises to fight extremism, bring accountability into politics, open up an independent media and reduce the immoral gap between Pakistan's rich and poor. But no amount of governmental fear-mongering can make us look the other way while he imposes emergency rule, intimidates the media, dismantles the judiciary and muzzles dissent. Without respect for civil institutions, his flawed government is doomed to fail.

Yet Benazir Bhutto is no savior. The queen of hypocrisy, she has managed to hypnotize Western liberals with her claim to represent progressive elements in the Muslim world. Bhutto is a charlatan. How can she call herself a democrat while also appointing herself head of the Pakistan People's Party for life? Her time as prime minister brought staggering levels of corruption and graft. Bhutto's niece and sister-in-law accuse her of conspiring to murder her own brother, Murtaza, who challenged her power during her second term. She continues to see Pakistan as her personal feudal fiefdom to be plundered. A false prophet of democracy, she threatens to bring back the rule of the gangster rather than the rule of law.

The United States and its allies need to unequivocally support the Pakistani judges, lawyers, journalists and rights activists fighting for the rule of law. A strong Pakistani civil society would provide stability and a powerful institutional deterrent against violence and extremism. It is the best hope for discouraging future political and military actors from grabbing power unilaterally. The reward for such support now could one day be a democratic Muslim country at peace with itself and the world.

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