A chameleon ally in Pakistan

The Sept. 11 assault upon America changed the contours of the world. It also gave Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf an avenue to respectability.

The Pakistani general, who seized power in a coup d'état in 1999, was a principal architect of policies that empowered Osama bin Ladin and strengthened the Taliban regime harboring Al Qaeda. General Musharraf failed to close the militant Islamic schools in Pakistan that filled youngsters with hatred toward the West and were the prime recruiting grounds for Mr. bin Ladin's war on civilization.

Twice during Musharraf's tenure as Army chief, a position he still holds, two confrontations have taken place with India that have brought South Asia to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. By marginalizing democratic forces, Musharraf has permitted a political vacuum for the religious parties to fill.

Musharraf has a record of disingenuous manipulation of world public opinion at the expense of basic human and democratic rights. Although he now denounces the contours of a theocratic state in Pakistan, he and his establishment supporters have yet to dismantle the governmental structure on which it rests. Though he now claims containment of terrorists and militants, for years he turned a blind eye to the Islamic groups Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, which many believe were involved in the Dec. 13 attack on the Indian Parliament.

Musharraf now denounces Pakistan's "state within a state" - the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI - while he and his military predecessors tasked the ISI to destabilize democratic government in Pakistan and manipulate the electoral process. He denounces the Islamicization of Pakistan, while for years the exploitation of Islam has been the military's way of stifling the Pakistani people.

In September 2001 he addressed the Pakistani nation to announce that he was joining the "lesser evil" (the United States) in the war against terror, suggesting it was necessary to avoid more international support for a greater evil, India. These words were out of touch with the emerging world realities. Both of these "evil" forces coalesced to press him to act against the militias and militants that his regime patronized for years.

His administration stood by as Pakistani Taliban supporters printed posters, hired trucks, established camps, and exhorted young Pakistanis to "join the jihad" led by Al Qaeda after the war against terror began. Thousands of young Pakistanis crossed over into Afghanistan. Their dead bodies are a monument to the pre-Sept. 11 policies of Pakistan's dictatorship.

Tragically, there is indifference around the world to the human and political price paid by Pakistanis for the fatally flawed policies of this regime. The West accepts Musharraf for his post-Sept. 11 turnabout on the Taliban and the January 2002 turnabout on terrorism against India. But these strategic somersaults are tarred by unreliability. It is only a matter of time before circumstances change, new opportunistic alliances are created, and Musharraf and his men surely will morph back into their previous incarnation.

Just as we must recall Western miscalculation in abandoning Afghanistan after the Soviet defeat, let us remember the lessons of Iran. The Shah was the West's surrogate regional policeman for decades. His policies of choking and victimizing democratic forces led to the fundamentalist revolution from which the world has yet to recover.

Musharraf plans to continue his military dictatorship through a manufactured political party in elections next October almost certain to be fraudulent, shutting out from the contest the legitimate political parties and leaders of Pakistan. This will play into the long-term goals of Pakistani Islamic fundamentalism.

Only an internationally monitored, free and fair, party-based election open to all political parties - including the Pakistan People's Party, which I chair - can create the legitimacy that would derail the fundamentalists' dream of a theocratic state.

The Musharraf military dictatorship, like that of Zia ul Haq's two decades ago, is an assault on the fundamental human and democratic rights of the Pakistani people. The regime's confrontation with the values of peace, democracy, human rights, rule of law, and justice erodes civil society.

Unless Musharraf revamps his administration and reaches out to democratic forces in agreeing on the modalities of a fair election and transfer of power, the domestic situation in the country will remain dangerous. In a democratic Pakistan, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl would not have been kidnapped by a fundamentalist cabal.

Remember that just as democracies do not start wars, democracies do not sustain state-sponsored terrorism. The modus operandi of dictatorship is war, fundamentalism, and terrorism. To contain terror, we must promote democracy.

For the moment, some might find Musharraf's dictatorship useful. But the United States must proceed with great caution and wisdom. In the words of John F. Kennedy, "foreign policy requires the long view." Ultimately, the West's blind eye to democracy and human rights can have unintended, unforeseen, and deadly consequences, not just in Pakistan, but for regional and world peace.

• Benazir Bhutto, pictured upper left, was prime minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and 1993 to 1996. She is the chairperson of the Pakistan People's Party, and is based in the United Arab Emirates.

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