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'Musharraf must recognise his popularity is dwindling'
March 28, 2007 14:00 IST
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf risks taking his country backwards by prolonging his rule and it is time that America realises that scare stories, notwithstanding, a more democratic Pakistan will be better for the two countries, a noted Pakistani author has said.
In an article in the New York Times, Mohsin Hamid, who once supported the General, says that Musharraf must recognize that his popularity is dwindling fast and that the need to move toward greater democracy is overwhelming.
Musharraf, the article says, now appears to be more concerned with perpetuating his rule than with furthering the cause of 'enlightened moderation' that he had claimed to champion.
'He has never been particularly popular, but he is now estranging the liberals who previously supported his progressive ends if not his autocratic means,' Hamid writes.
The US, he notes, has provided enormous financial and political support to Musharraf's government, but it has 'focused on his short-term performance in the war on terror.'
'America must now take a long-term view and press Musharraf to reverse his suspension of the chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and of Pakistan's press freedoms. He should be encouraged to see that he cannot cling to power forever,' he adds.
Pakistan, stresses Hamid, is both more complicated and less dangerous than America has been led to believe.
Pointing out that Musharraf has portrayed himself as America's last line of defence in an angry and dangerous land, the author says in reality, the vast majority of Pakistanis want nothing to do with violence.
Conceding that there are militants in Pakistan, Hamid says they are a small minority in a country with a population of 165 million.
Religious extremists have never done well in elections when the mainstream parties have been allowed to compete fairly. Nor does the Pakistan Army appear to be in any great danger of falling into radical hands -- by all accounts the commanders below Musharraf broadly agree with his policies, he adds.
An exaggerated fear of Pakistan's people, Hamid says, must not prevent US from realising that Pakistanis are turning away from General Musharraf.
'What many of us hoped was that General Musharraf would build up the country's neglected institutions before eventually handing over power to a democratically elected successor. Those hopes were dealt a serious blow two weeks ago, when he suspended the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry,' the article says.
For Musharraf, Hamid says, Justice Chaudhry had become a major irritant. He had opened investigations into government 'disappearances' of suspects in the war on terrorism.