Times: Bush plans to keep Pakistan from being mockery of democracy 'fell apart spectacularly'
In a somewhat sharply worded news analysis in Sunday's editions of The New York Times, the paper of record takes the president to task on his seeming failure to maintain order in Pakistan.
"For more than five months the United States has been trying to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of President Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Muslim world," pens the Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Helene Cooper.
"On Saturday, those carefully laid plans fell apart spectacularly," they continue. "Now the White House is stuck in wait-and-see mode, with limited options and a lack of clarity about the way forward."
Musharraf declared emergency rule Saturday evening, putting the Army in charge of Islamabad. Most of the Supreme Court was disbanded after they refused to certify his decision; Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry was placed under house arrest. Telephone lines were cut and critical media outlets shuttered.
The Times said Pakistan was close to a Bush administration nightmare -- an "American-backed military dictator who is risking civil instability in a country with nuclear weapons and an increasingly alienated public"
Stolberg and Cooper also note that top Al Qaeda leaders and Osama Bin Laden are "believed to be hiding out in the mountainous border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan."
Taken together, these statements could indicate a greater threat to the United States' security than Iran: an "American-backed military dictator who is risking civil instability in a country with nuclear weapons and an increasingly alienated public" on whose border Osama Bin Laden and top Al Qaeda leaders are "believed to be hiding out."
Musharraf was one of Bush's chief allies in the region, despite his all-but-dictatorship. The US has given Pakistan more than $10 billion in aid -- "mostly to the military, since 2001."
Now that military is patrolling the streets of Islamabad, cutting off phone lines and critical media outlets and placing opposition leader Imran Khan under house house arrest.
After Musharraf's decision to suspend the constitution, the Times notes: "there was no immediate action by the [Bush] administration to accompany the tough talk."
"Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling in the Middle East, called Mr. Musharraf’s move 'highly regrettable,' while her spokesman, Sean D. McCormack, said the United States was 'deeply disturbed.'"
Teresita Schaffer, an expert on Pakistan at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told the paper Musharraf’s decision was “a big embarrassment” for the administration.
“There’s going to be a lot of visible wringing of hands, and urging Musharraf to declare his intentions,” Schaffer remarked. “But I don’t really see any alternative to continuing to work with him. They can’t just decide they’re going to blow off the whole country of Pakistan, because it sits right next to Afghanistan, where there are some 26,000 U.S. and NATO troops.”