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Reverse Musharraf's coup

With Chris Patten and Joschka Fischer, International Herald Tribune, 9 November 2007

In imposing martial law in Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf evoked Abraham Lincoln's measures to save the Union during the American Civil War. But Lincoln was struggling to save his country, while Musharraf is desperately clinging to power in the face of growing demands for democracy.

The Pakistan Constitution has very specific rules for the declaration of a "state of emergency" to handle imminent threats, but Musharraf, acting as military chief rather than president, simply overrode them. This was a coup against the Constitution, the imposition of martial law by a man who feels more threatened by elections than jihadi groups.

Recent violence was an excuse, not a justification, for his move. His targets make his real fears clear beyond doubt.

The police jailed or put under house arrest lawyers, secular politicians, journalists and human rights defenders - including Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and our fellow Crisis Group board member. The day after the coup, the military actually released 28 jihadi militants in South Waziristan who were convicted on terrorism charges in exchange for soldiers. Among those militants were three who had been arrested with suicide bomb vests.

Since 2001, Musharraf has used the threat of terrorism to ensure international support. For too many Western governments, the grudging supply of intelligence and counter-terrorism support has outweighed concerns about democracy. They have failed to understand that the strongest force against extremism is a government with the legitimacy that only comes from free and fair polls, applying the rule of law.

The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis want law, peace, economic progress and nothing to do with jihadis. A recent poll showed that three-quarters of them think extremism is a problem. The same number wanted Musharraf - his approval rating at just 21 percent - to step down from his army post. Four out of five respondents were opposed to the declaration of any state of emergency - but a majority would back tough measures against violent extremists if these measures were carried out in a consistent manner.

Western governments must now give up their Musharraf policy and adopt a Pakistan policy. The key steps to get the country back on track are for Musharraf to cancel his purported state of emergency; give up his position as army chief as promised by Nov. 15, when a special parliamentary dispensation for him to wear both civilian and military hats expires; restore dismissed judges to their posts to ensure the independence of the judiciary; appoint a neutral caretaker government to take power pending elections held on schedule by early next year; and for leaders of all political parties to be allowed to contest these elections, including the exiled former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Free and fair elections would bring to power either Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party or Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League. Outsiders should not worry about which party wins because both are moderate, broad based and opposed to extremism. What is important is that the process is fair and the rulers legitimate. Pakistan has many of the components of an effective democracy, including the increasingly independent courts, media and civil society that Musharraf is trying to crush. What is missing now are proper elections.

The United States and European governments must unite behind the message that this coup will not stand. A threat of graduated and closely targeted sanctions should be made.

Unless Musharraf announces that elections will be held, military aid other than direct counter-terror support should be suspended. Key generals and top officials such as the prime minister and his cabinet should face travel bans, as should their families. Restrictions on new contracts with military-run companies should be imposed, and officer training programs abroad suspended. Each of these steps could be ratcheted up without hurting a population struggling with economic uncertainty. The Pakistani military is a worldly group that enjoys its privileges: It may reconsider its stand if these are under threat.

Governments should also make it clear that for a democratic Pakistan they will expand aid and open up markets. Of the more than $10 billion in aid from the United States since 9/11, only 10 percent has gone on development or humanitarian aid. The next $10 billion should be spent on education, jobs and health care.

Sanctions and any offer of help must be backed by diplomacy, with Musharraf hearing a very clear and direct message from world leaders that he is on the wrong path. That message might usefully evoke a more relevant conclusion from Lincoln's experience, his judgment that "Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed." The people of Pakistan want an end to violent extremism; they want democracy, and Musharraf must not stand in their way.

Lord Patten is co-chairman, Gareth Evans president, and Joschka Fischer a board member of the International Crisis Group.