Pakistan Alerted U.S. It Planned Emergency Rule
By JAY SOLOMON and
November 23, 2007
WALL STREET JOURNAL
As his government battled democracy protesters and an Islamist
insurgency, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf startled his
countrymen this month by imposing emergency rule and jailing
thousands of opponents. The move wasn't a surprise to the U.S.
In the days before the Nov. 3 announcement, the general's aides and
advisers forewarned U.S. diplomats in a series of meetings in
Islamabad, according to Pakistani and U.S. officials.
One of Gen. Musharraf's closest advisers said U.S. criticism was
muted, which some senior Pakistanis interpreted as a sign they could
proceed. "You don't like that option? You give us one," the adviser
says he told his American interlocutors. "There were no good
options," he adds.
But a U.S. official familiar with the discussions says the talks were
part of "intensive efforts" to dissuade Gen. Musharraf from declaring
a state of emergency. "There was never a green light," the U.S.
Yesterday, the general's difficulties eased a bit, as Pakistan's
Supreme Court ruled against a challenge to his re-election last month
as the country's president. Gen. Musharraf, who purged most of the
court's judges after he declared emergency rule, had been expected to
step down as army chief once the court ruled in his favor. Pakistan's
attorney general said Wednesday that the general could do so as early
as Saturday. But challenges to his rule by mainstream political
rivals and Islamist rebels are likely to continue.
Meanwhile, one of his opponents, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,
now in exile in Saudi Arabia, is expected to get the go-ahead today
during a meeting with the Saudi king to return to Pakistan, according
to Ahsan Iqbal, a spokesman for Mr. Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League
He said Mr. Sharif, who was forced back into exile following a brief
return to Pakistan in September, would likely come home within days
-- in time to contest parliamentary elections on Jan 8. Mr. Sharif
and another former Pakistani premier, Benazir Bhutto, control two of
the country's biggest political parties.
In the past few days, the Pakistani government has begun to release
many of those it detained, but has yet to say when the emergency
might be lifted. It has made little headway in defeating insurgents
in the country's northwest. And many Pakistanis fear their problems
could increase as the January elections approach.
The Bush administration has staked its hopes of taming radicalism in
Afghanistan and South Asia on its marriage of convenience with Gen.
Musharraf, but American policy in Pakistan has been beset by mixed
signals and missed opportunities.
Calls on the administration to engage more with politicians outside
Gen. Musharraf's sphere were rarely heeded, say current and former
American officials. Billions of dollars in U.S. aid went to
Pakistan's military, rather than to build up its civil society, a
decision that widened a rift between Washington and the moderate
Pakistani forces the White House now says it wants to empower.
As a result, during Pakistan's recent blowup, the U.S. has found
itself in a bind: unhappy with the general, but limited in its
ability to influence him.
A growing number of current and former Bush administration officials
now say the U.S. waited too long to shape an alternate approach to
Pakistan. "We've been ignoring those who are rejecting Musharraf,"
says Xenia Dormandy, who headed the National Security Council's South
Asia desk in the White House from 2004 through 2005. "Unless we
encourage them, we'll have even more problems five years down the
There are signs the administration is shifting its attention to
Pakistani political forces outside Gen. Musharraf's orbit, such as
Ms. Bhutto, as well as conservative Islamic leaders. But with few
existing relationships on which to build, the chances of success are
Pakistan's most powerful institution, the military, enjoys the
strongest ties with the U.S. government. But the partnership is
suffering as anti-military and anti-American sentiment in Pakistan
fuels an Islamic insurgency that continues to capture new territory.
Many U.S. counterterrorism officials fear this instability is
empowering al Qaeda and the Taliban, which take refuge in the border
region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
One big reason the U.S. finds itself at an impasse is the
foreign-policy style of President Bush. The terrorist attacks of
Sept. 11, 2001, were masterminded by Osama bin Laden from
Afghanistan, next door to Pakistan. The U.S. saw strengthening its
alliance with Pakistan as key to defeating al Qaeda.
Mr. Bush built his Pakistan policy around a relationship with Gen.
Musharraf, in much the same way his relationships with Russian
President Vladimir Putin and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai shaped his
policy toward their countries. That set the U.S. on a track of
bolstering its counterterrorism and strategic objectives by upholding
the general's rule, at the expense of democracy and human rights.
In an interview, former Prime Minister Bhutto, who returned from
self-imposed exile last month after reaching a tentative deal with
Gen. Musharraf to help guide Pakistan toward civilian rule, said the
fight against extremists can't be separated from the struggle for
democracy. "We differed on the view that military was a problem, not
a solution," she says of her disputes with the U.S. "It's a
contradiction to believe a democratic evolution can take place under
Mr. Sharif, the former premier deposed by Gen. Musharraf in 1999,
says the U.S.'s attitude changed after 9/11, adding: "I don't think
President Bush should go against the wishes of 160 million people of
State Department officials deny the U.S. has undercut Pakistani
democracy. They say the Bush administration has consistently
pressured Gen. Musharraf to repeal the state of emergency and hold
free elections. They also say Washington never gave Gen. Musharraf a
signal that it would acquiesce in his declaration of martial, or
"We believe that the path of political moderation is the best way
forward for Pakistan," Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said
Saturday in Islamabad.
Today, even Gen. Musharraf's allies say the state of emergency has
backfired. The curbs on constitutional freedoms prompted protests by
lawyers and journalists, and led to a breach with Ms. Bhutto, who at
one point was Gen. Musharraf's potential political partner in a new
government. In 1999, most American officials and many Pakistani
citizens welcomed Gen. Musharraf's rule after he seized power in a
The administrations of Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Sharif had left Pakistan's
economy in bad shape and its government riddled with corruption. They
hoped he would clean up Pakistan. In retrospect, there were signals
early on that the general was straying from his stated commitment to
In 2002, Pakistan held parliamentary elections, but there was
widespread evidence of voter fraud and electoral tampering by the
military, says Robert Grenier, the Central Intelligence Agency's
station chief in Islamabad from 1999 to 2002. The immediate result
was the weakening of secular Pakistani political parties, such as Ms.
Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, and strengthening of Gen.
Musharraf's party and the country's Islamist factions, he says.
The Bush administration didn't raise a fuss, signaling to the
military leader that Washington wasn't going to push him for
democracy. "We might have had more marginal influence today if we'd
put down a marker" back in 2002, Mr. Grenier says. An ambitious U.S.
aid program to reform Pakistan's political and education systems
largely served to strengthen Islamabad's military and
counterterrorism operations, say current and former U.S. officials.
In all, the Bush administration has distributed nearly $11 billion to
Pakistan since 9/11. Analysts at Washington's Center for Strategic
and International Studies say as much as 80% of this went into
Pakistan's armed forces. In 2002 and 2003, Pakistan's military and
intelligence services captured hundreds of al Qaeda operatives,
including its one-time chief of military operations, 9/11 mastermind
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Early on, U.S. diplomats recognized that these funds were benefiting
Pakistan's military at the expense of its police, judiciary and other
public institutions. "I advised to give more aid to the police and to
education" in cables sent to Washington, says Wendy Chamberlin, who
served as U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan from 2001 to 2002. "But this
Today, Ms. Chamberlin argues that in the places where American
development aid largely wasn't distributed, such as Pakistan's tribal
areas, Islamist charities and Taliban officials are largely filling
As Washington's relations with Gen. Musharraf strengthened, its ties
to leading opposition figures withered. Ms. Bhutto saw her stock
plummet in the late 1990s after corruption charges were filed against
her and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, her minister of investment.
U.S. diplomats, meanwhile, viewed Mr. Sharif, exiled in Saudi Arabia,
as in league with hard-line Islamist political parties. Ms. Bhutto
found herself persona non grata in Washington, according to U.S.
officials. U.S. trips usually included meetings only with desk
officers at the National Security Council or State Department's South
Many senior U.S. officials remain skeptical of Ms. Bhutto, viewing
her party as too beholden to the country's old land-owning class and
believing she would be unreliable in the war against al Qaeda. They
also suspect her recent negotiations with Gen. Musharraf were aimed
largely at clearing her name of various corruption allegations.
Ms. Bhutto says she is driven by a commitment to democracy.
This spring, the State Department -- with reservations --seized on
the idea of a political marriage between Ms. Bhutto and Gen.
Musharraf. The goal was a peaceful transition from military to
civilian rule. But many Pakistanis viewed it as a way to perpetuate
military rule, albeit with civilian cover.
Washington's isolation from Pakistan's opposition proved costly when
a political crisis erupted in March after Gen. Musharraf suspended
the country's chief justice.
U.S. diplomats voiced support for an independent judiciary, but the
U.S.'s ties to Gen. Musharraf led to criticism that it wasn't doing
enough to rein him in.
In August, Gen. Musharraf was leaning toward imposing emergency law,
but was warded off by a late-night call from Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, say U.S. State Department officials. On Oct. 31,
days ahead of the emergency declaration, Gen. Musharraf met with key
aides and members of his political party at the residence of Prime
Minister Shaukat Aziz to discuss options.
Some voiced concerns that martial law could upset the economy and
unwind the steps Gen. Musharraf had taken to free up Pakistan's
media, according to attendees. As the meeting broke for dinner around
midnight, 20 of the 25 who attended voted to go forward with the
state of emergency, arguing the negative impact on Gen. Musharraf
would be limited.
Some predicted he would easily weather international criticism. The
prospect of U.S. opposition in particular wasn't raised, according to
Mushahid Hussain Sayed, the secretary general of the ruling Pakistan
Muslim League (Q), who was one of the five to vote against the
Ms. Rice and the U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson, issued
follow-up warnings to the general. By this time, however, he was
preoccupied by the threat he saw from the Supreme Court, which was
set to rule on whether he could continue in power while also
remaining head of the army, and not on any potential rebukes from
Since the emergency declaration, the Bush administration has hinted
it may be altering its stance toward Gen. Musharraf. Ambassador
Patterson has held meetings with leading opposition leaders,
including Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the deputy chairman of a coalition
of six conservative Islamist parties. She has also met with the
army's deputy commander, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, in a signal to some that
Washington has put out feelers to other powerful Pakistani generals.
Traveling to Pakistan's financial capital, Karachi, this week, Ms.
Patterson extolled press freedoms during a stop at Geo TV, a station
curtailed by martial law.
President Bush, meanwhile, offered his strongest support yet for Gen.
Musharraf since the emergency, telling ABC News Tuesday that
Pakistan's leader "truly is someone who believes in democracy."
State Department strategists say they are continuing to try to forge
a political marriage between Gen. Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto. They say
they are hoping to see political temperatures cool, after which the
pair could meet publicly to outline an agenda.
That appears unlikely before elections in January, which Ms. Bhutto's
party and others may choose to boycott. Ms. Bhutto says she's no
longer interested in allying with Gen. Musharraf. "My question is: If
the U.S., which is giving more than $10 billion in aid, can't get him
to lift emergency rule... what's the point of my negotiating with
- Zahid Hussain contributed to this article.