In his 2005 inaugural address, President George
W. Bush declared that the United States would support democratic movements around
the world and work to end tyranny. Furthermore, he pledged to those struggling
for freedom that the United States would "not ignore your oppression, or excuse
your oppressors." Despite these promises, the Bush administration with the
apparent acquiescence of the Democratic-controlled Congress has instead decided
to continue U.S. support for the dictatorship of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's
On Nov. 3, the U.S.-backed chief of the Pakistani army, fearing an imminent
ruling by the Supreme Court which could have invalidated his hold on power,
declared a state of emergency. He immediately suspended the constitution, shut
down all television stations not controlled by the government, ordered the arrests
of thousands of political opponents and pro-democracy activists, fired judges
not supportive of his crackdown, jammed mobile phone networks, and ordered attacks
on peaceful demonstrators. Leading Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir reported that
the U.S. embassy had given a green light to the coup in large part due to its
opposition to the chief justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry,
who had issued key rulings challenging the government's policies on political
prisoners, women's rights, and the privatization of public enterprises. Musharraf's
efforts to sack the chief justice six months ago resulted in months of protests
which led to his reinstatement just a few weeks before this latest crackdown.
Within hours of the martial-law declaration, a
Pentagon spokesman tried to reassure the regime that "the declaration does not
impact on our military support." This reiteration of support comes despite the
fact that the U.S.-armed police and military, instead of concentrating on suppressing
extremists waging a violent jihad along the Afghan border as promised, are instead
suppressing judges, lawyers, journalists, and other members of the educated,
urban middle class struggling nonviolently for the restoration of democracy.
Indeed, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte argued before a recent congressional
hearing that continued support for Pakistan's authoritarian regime is "vital
to our interests," that it is "contributing heavily to the war on terror," and
that it remains "an indispensable ally."
Musharraf originally seized power in October 1999 following an effort by the
democratically elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to dismiss him from his position
as army chief. Sharif has been exiled by Musharraf ever since; an attempt by
the former prime minister to return in September was aborted at the airport
and he was immediately deported.
Despite its unconstitutionality and its repression, the United States has sent
over $10 billion in military and police aid to Pakistan over the past six years
to prop up Musharraf's regime. And, in 2005, Pakistan became one of only a handful
of states to be formally designated as a "major non-NATO ally" of the United
States. During his visit last year to Pakistan, Bush praised Musharraf's commitment
to democracy just hours after Pakistani police beat and arrested scores of opposition
leaders and anti-Bush protesters.
Indeed, despite his well-documented human rights abuses, the Pakistani general
has been repeatedly praised by America's political, academic, and media elites.
Bush has commended Musharraf's "courage and vision" while Negroponte told the
recent House panel that the dictator was "a committed individual working very
hard in the service of his country." Similarly, Columbia University president
Lee Bollinger who called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "cruel and petty dictator"
in his introduction of the Iranian president introduced Musharraf at an earlier
forum by expressing his "great gratitude and excitement" of hosting "a leader
of his stature," praising the Pakistani general's "remarkable" contributions
to his country's economic development and the "international fight against terror."
Support for Extremists
The Bush administration and its supporters claim
that the United States must continue its backing of the Pakistani dictatorship
because of its role in suppressing Islamist extremists. The reality, however,
is far different. For its first two years in power, Musharraf was a major supporter
of the Taliban regime, making Pakistan one of only three countries in the world
that recognized that totalitarian government, despite the Taliban providing
refuge for Osama bin Laden and others in the al-Qaeda network. As correctly
noted by the 9/11 Commission in its final report, "On terrorism, Pakistan helped
nurture the Taliban" and that "Many in the government have sympathized with
or provided support to the extremists."
Throughout his eight years in power, Musharraf has suppressed the established
secular political parties while allowing for the development of Islamic political
groups that show little regard for individual freedom. Despite claims that they
had been shut down, madrassas run by Islamist extremists still operate
openly. Taliban-allied groups effectively run large swathes of territory in
the western provinces and the regions bordering Afghanistan are more controlled
by pro-Taliban extremists than ever. In a press conference during a recent visit
to Washington by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in which Bush tried to blame
Iran for the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Karzai corrected him
by noting that Iran had actually been quite supportive of his government's efforts
and it was actually Pakistan that was backing the Taliban.
Former Kandahar-based NPR correspondent Sarah Chayes noted in her recently-released
Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban that Pakistan
has continued its decades-long policy of using religious extremists to exert
its influence in Afghanistan. In return for providing limited cooperation against
al-Qaeda, the United States is willing to ignore Pakistani backing of Taliban
and Hizbi-Islami militants as they wreak havoc on the people of that war-ravaged
country. Chayes also noted how Pakistani intelligence, through the assassination
of moderate Afghan political leaders and other acts of intimidation, has effective
veto power over key decisions of the democratically elected Afghan government,
and without any apparent objections from Washington.
Support for Previous Dictators
For decades, the United States has backed the
military dictators who have ruled Pakistan. Whether in the name of containing
Communism or fighting terrorism, the well-being of the people of the sixth most
populated country in the world has been of little concern to Washington policy
makers of both parties.
During the Nixon administration, the United States served as the major foreign
backer of Gen. Yahya Khan, who declared martial law in 1969. In response to
electoral victories by the Bengali-based Awami league in 1971, he began mass
arrests of dissidents following a general strike.
As army units began revolting in response to the repression, Gen. Khan cracked
down with a brutality that Archer Blood, the U.S. consul in Dhaka, referred
to as "genocide." In one of the strongest-worded dissents ever written by U.S.
Foreign Service officers, Blood and 29 others declared,
"Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government
has failed to denounce atrocities. Our government has failed to take forceful
measures to protect its citizens while at the same time bending over backwards
to placate the [Pakistani] government and to lessen any deservedly negative
international public relations impact against them. Our government has evidenced
what many will consider moral bankrupt." Despite these protests, the Nixon administration
continued its support for the repression, which took hundreds of thousands of
lives, before Congress in response to public outcry suspended aid.
Khan was forced from power soon thereafter, leading to a democratic opening
until Zia-ul-Haq seized power in 1977, declaring martial law and executing the
elected prime minister he had overthrown. Imposing a rigid and reactionary version
of Islamic law, Zia-ul-Haq systematically dismantled many of the country's civil
society institutions. U.S. aid to his regime increased dramatically after the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 and the CIA began collaborating
with Pakistan's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to arm the Afghan
resistance, sending the bulk of the aid to the most hard-line Islamist elements,
particularly the extremist Hezbi-Islami faction, despite its propensity to fight
the more moderate Afghan resistance groups as much as it did the Soviets.
In the summer of 1983, massive and largely nonviolent demonstrations in Sindh
and elsewhere in Pakistan by the pro-democracy movement were crushed without
apparent objections from Washington. Pro-democracy agitation resumed later that
decade to again be met by severe repression. The dictatorship did not end, however,
until Zia-ul-Haq along with U.S. Ambassador Arnold Raphel, top Pakistani military
commanders, and other key supporters of the regime were killed in a mysterious
air crash in August 1988. President Ronald Reagan expressed his "profound grief"
at Zia's death, eulogizing the dictator as "a statesman of world stature" and
praising his "dedication to regional peace and reconstruction."
Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons
Beginning in the late 1970s, as the extent of
Pakistan's nuclear program became known, the international community began expressing
concerns over the possibility of politically unstable Pakistan developing nuclear
weapons. Throughout the 1980s, however, the Reagan and the George H. W. Bush
administrations formally denied that Pakistan was engaging in nuclear weapons
development despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In addition, the
United States continued supplying Pakistan with F-16 aircraft even as nuclear
analysts concluded that Pakistan would likely use these fighter planes as its
primary delivery system for its nuclear arsenal. To publicly acknowledge what
virtually every authority on nuclear proliferation knew about Pakistan's nuclear
capability would force the United States to cut off aid to Pakistan, as required
by U.S. laws designed to enforce the non-proliferation regime. The annual U.S.
certification of Pakistan's supposed non-nuclear status was halted only in 1990,
when the Soviet-backed Afghan regime was finally collapsing.
However, George H.W. Bush's administration insisted that the cutoff of aid
did not include military sales, so the transfer of spare parts for the nuclear-capable
F-16s aircraft to Pakistan continued. President Bill Clinton finally imposed
sanctions against the regime when Pakistan engaged in a series of nuclear weapons
tests in 1998, but the sanctions as well as restrictions regarding military
aid to new nuclear states were repealed by Congress and the Bush administration
three years later.
The U.S. government has blocked the United Nations
from imposing sanctions or other means to enforce UN Security Council resolution
1172, passed unanimously in 1998, which calls on Pakistan to dismantle its nuclear
weapons and long-range missiles. (This contrasts with the Bush administration's
partially successful efforts to impose tough international sanctions against
Iran for violating UN Security Council resolution 1696 calling for restrictions
on its nuclear program, even though the Islamic Republic is still many years
from weapons capability and is therefore much less of a threat to international
peace and security than is Pakistan.)
Indeed, the United States has released the previously suspended sale of sophisticated
nuclear-capable F-16 fighter jets to that country. A Bush administration official
claimed that the U.S. fighter-bombers "are vital to Pakistan's security as President
Musharraf prosecutes the war on terror" despite the fact that these jets were
originally ordered 15 years earlier, long before the U.S.-led "war on terror"
began. They were suspended by the administration of the president's father out
of concerns about Pakistan's nuclear program and the Pakistani military's ties
with Islamic terrorist groups, both of which are of even greater concern today.
One of the most disturbing aspects of U.S. support
for the Pakistani regime is that Pakistan has been sharing its nuclear materials
and know-how with North Korea and other so-called "rogue states." The Bush administration
chose to essentially ignore what journalist Robert Scheer has referred to as
"the most extravagantly irresponsible nuclear arms bazaar the world has ever
seen" and to instead blame others. For example, even though it was actually
Pakistanis who passed on nuclear materials to Libya, the Bush administration
instead told U.S. allies that North Korea was responsible, thereby sabotaging
negotiations which many had hoped could end North Korea's nuclear program and
resolve that festering crisis. Similarly, though it was Pakistan which provided
Iran with nuclear centrifuges, the Bush administration is now citing Iran's
possession of such materials as justification for a possible U.S. military attack
against that country.
The Bush administration, despite evidence to the contrary, claims that the
Pakistani government was not responsible for exporting such dangerous materials,
but that these serious breaches of security were solely the responsibility of
a single rogue nuclear scientist named Abdul Qadeer Khan. Unfortunately, the
Pakistani military regime has not allowed U.S. intelligence access to Khan,
the former head of Pakistan's nuclear program, whom the 9/11 Commission noted
"was leading the most dangerous nuclear smuggling ring ever disclosed." Recently
pardoned by Musharraf, he now lives freely in Pakistan while Pakistani anti-nuclear
activists have been exiled or jailed.
Despite President Bush's claim that Islamist extremists
attack American because they "hate our freedom," the reality is that most people
in Pakistan and other Islamic countries don't have anything against our freedom.
They do, however, recognize that the United States shares responsibility for
their repression through its unconditional support of the dictatorship that
denies them their own freedom. And, without the opportunity to press for changes
through the political system, some turn to violence and extremism.
The United States has supported repressive regimes in the Islamic world and
beyond for years with little concern over the consequences. On Sept. 11, 2001,
however, citizens from the U.S.-backed dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Egypt
hijacked four airliners, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Americans.
A public opinion poll in Pakistan this past August showed that Osama bin Laden
has a higher approval rating than either Gen. Musharraf or President Bush. Extremist
Islamist parties would not come close to winning a free election in Pakistan
today, but in denying Pakistan's pro-Western democratic opposition a chance
to compete and in jailing its leaders, Musharraf and his American supporters
may be creating the conditions that could eventually lead to the takeover of
this nuclear-armed country by dangerous extremists.
As President John F. Kennedy observed, "Those who make peaceful evolution impossible
will make violent revolution inevitable."
The American Public
In 1971, during the height of the massacres of
Bengalis by the Pakistani army, a small group of American Quakers organized
a flotilla of canoes in Baltimore Harbor to block a Pakistani freighter from
docking where it was to be loaded with American arms and munitions while other
protesters on shore blocked the train which carried the weaponry. Though most
of them were arrested and the weapons were eventually loaded, the publicity
from the event alerted the American public to the largely clandestine U.S. military
support for the Pakistani regime.
When protesters met another Pakistani freighter attempting to pick up weapons
in Philadelphia shortly thereafter, dockworkers refused to load the ship, preferring
to not get paid that day rather than to work for what their local union leader
referred to as "blood money." Within weeks, in the face of public outcry against
U.S. support for the genocidal Pakistani regime, Congress cut off military aid,
a testament to the power of nonviolent direct action.
Given the unwillingness of both the Republican administration and the Democratic-controlled
Congress to stop U.S. military support for the current Pakistani dictatorship,
it may be time once again for concerned citizens to engage in similar nonviolent
actions to end U.S. support for the oppression. For those at risk as a result
of U.S. policy are no longer just those currently oppressed by the Pakistani
regime. Some day, as a result of a possible blowback from this policy, it could
be Americans as well.