Thursday, August 14, 2008

"You Have to Be with the Democratic Forces"

There are a couple of things in today's NYT article about the big news from Pakistan (Musharraf is expected to resign soon) that need to be highlighted.

First is this:

The continued support of Mr. Musharraf by the Bush administration, anchored by the personal relationship between President Bush and Mr. Musharraf, has infuriated the four-month-old civilian coalition, which routed the president’s party in February elections. “Now the reaction from the American friends is positive,” Mr. Khan said.

While Mr. Bush has kept up his relations with Mr. Musharraf -- including regular telephone conversations -- the administration has also been trying to build its relations with the new Pakistani government, as it demands greater action against militants based in this country.

Mr. Khan, is Nisar Ali Khan, a senior official in the religious, conservative paraty, the Pakistan Muslim League-N. The PML-N is the minority party in the parliamentary coalition that has powered the effort to get rid of Musharraf. I think it's a good sign that despite Bush's reactionary policy of sticking by Musharraf for the last 10 months, the PML-N isn't bashing the U.S., and in fact, sounded a positive note.

Bush actually met with Pakistan's prime minister a few weeks ago in Washington, Yousaf Raza Gillani, who leads the majority party in the coalition, the Pakistan People's Party. Despite the coalition, the liberal PPP are bitter rivals with the PML-N. In that context, Khan's upbeat quote says to me that the PML-N are grown ups and recognize that the political game is on, and they want to be in the mix and build a relationship with the U.S.

Let's not blow it. There is an opportunity here. The media has been beating the war drum on Pakistan, but this proves we've got better options.

Indeed, the more important snippet from today's article was this:

Mr. Sherpao represents a parliamentary constituency in the North West Frontier Province on the edge of the tribal area where the Taliban are winning control in village after village with little opposition from the military or government forces.

After consulting “with every friend” in his area “not a single person was in favor of Musharraf,” Mr. Sherpao said.

“With one voice they said: ‘This is the time you have to be with the democratic forces.’“

I cannot stress enough how this renewed push for democracy in Pakistan, which has blossomed in the last year, represents a viable, popular antidote to the Taliban and Qaeda who are (symbolically and literally) banished away in the hinterlands. While Al Qaeda and the Taliban plot in their tree house, let's work with the majority of the country who want democracy not sharia.

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