International Papers

Gen. Musharraf Goes to Washington

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf visited Washington this week seeking payoff for Islamabad’s post-9/11 support for the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition. According to Pakistan’s Dawn, the U.S. aid package includes $1 billion in debt relief, $100 million for education, and increased market access for Pakistani clothing exports. However, the debt write-off requires congressional approval, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden has conditioned approval on fair elections and reduced tensions with India. Pakistan’s News International described U.S. demands for a return to democratic rule as “confusing.” Gen. Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, has promised to hold elections in October, which will reduce his authority. “A general election … would dilute some of Musharraf’s powers and his capacity to act as quickly and swiftly as he has done in the past few months. … The United States must therefore be prepared to accept a situation in which an erosion of Musharraf’s power base would impinge on Washington’s agenda and its implementation in Pakistan.” A News International op-ed said that despite the superficial “rosy rhetoric, benign bonhomie and gracious goodwill” Pakistan was disappointed with the U.S. aid package: “What irks local pundits is that this time around it is not charity that we are seeking but merely asking Washington to compensate for the loss that we suffered because of helping them out in the Afghanistan war.”

Several papers praised Musharraf’s political instincts. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post said he “has shown an unerring knack of choosing the right friends and seizing political opportunities when they arise. What he lacks in democratic credentials he has apparently made up for by sheer innate political acumen.” The SCMP identified a fashion barometer of Musharraf’s progress: “The direction the President chose is epitomised by his switch from a preference for the formal military dress of his erstwhile career to the lounge suit—the standard uniform of internationally recognised politicians.” Keep the khaki, responded the Frontier Post of Peshawar: “The President of Pakistan should not adopt an apologetic attitude on wearing a uniform as he is more a democrat compared to the erstwhile elected leaders in upholding freedom of the press and independence of the judiciary in Pakistan.”

The Frontier Post also counseled Musharraf to keep it real: “He should mince no words in telling his American hosts that the people of Pakistan hold serious reservations against the USA as it had abandoned Pakistan after its interests in Afghanistan were served after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The self-serving policies adopted by the US against Pakistan in the past have left behind bitter feeling of treachery.” On Wednesday, Dawn reported, President Bush responded to this concern: “In view of the past history of the US-Pakistan bilateral relationship, said Mr Bush, it was understandable if people might say, ‘it’s a short-term dance. But when we say we’re committed, we’re committed as long as our goals remain the same.’ “