Shoud The US Support Musharraf?

Victor Davis Hanson has an article in NRO where he argues that the US has no business propping up Musharraf in Pakistan. Now granted, I agree with his essential point, that the US should not support dictatorships on principle, but as dictators go, Musharraf is fairly moderate. Pakistan has one of the freer presses in the Muslim world, and has recently tried to work with the US on stopping al-Qaeda.

Yet on the other hand, there is now reason to doubt that Musharraf will live up to the legacy of Ataturk. His inability to crack down on militants operating against India and his release of many militants rounded up late last year all are worrying signs. Unless Musharraf can prove that he still wishes to take Pakistan on a course that will lead to democracy, his support from the US may fade.

However, if Musharraf does show a commitment to democracy and modernity, then it would be foolish for the US to abandon their support for his government. Restoring democracy to Pakistan won’t be an easy or short process. If Musharraf is willing to show a commitment to eliminating terrorists operating in Pakistan, is willing to work with the United States, and finds an arrangement with India that reduces regional tension, then by all means the US should assist in whatever way we can. Many of the problems with Pakistan originate not from Musharraf, but from groups that are nowhere near as moderate as he is.

Remember, that when the Pressler Amendments were enacted, placing sanctions on the Musharraf government, it did scarce little good towards removing Islamic militancy in Pakistan. It wasn’t until Musharraf himself seized the initiative and worked with the US to stop the Taliban, despite the fact that many in his own government were strongly against such a course, that Pakistan made much progress in rounding up terrorists. Such an action would only make the situation worse in the long run. It all comes down to temporarily setting aside true democracy in the short term to ensure its survival in the long term. It may be morally questionable to some, but if we’re going to play a game of realpolitik we can ill-afford to do a half-assed job of it.