This week’s visit to Pakistan of two high-ranking US policymakers — Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher — raised some expectations that they might be carrying the message to General Musharraf that it was time to quit. The visit coincides with the swearing in of a new democratic government hostile to the president.

But so far there’s no sign of it. Any likelihood of Musharraf’s resignation seems to stem from his own recognition that his position is untenable, rather than an American change of heart. Bruce Loudon reports in this morning’s Australian, barely hiding his own incredulity, that “Even yesterday, Mr Negroponte and Mr Boucher were said to be arguing for the new democratic leadership to work with Mr Musharraf rather than force him to quit.”

Even six months ago, that policy was pretty obviously doomed. To be persevering with it now, after it has produced the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and a landslide election win for Musharraf’s opponents, suggests an administration that has completely lost touch with reality.

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Western media coverage tends to view Pakistan through the prism of the “war on terror”. A BBC report yesterday remarked that “the US is not held in high regard by the general public in Pakistan because of its perceived stance against Islam internationally.”

But last month’s elections were a triumph for secularists, even in the areas that supposedly represent the heart of Islamic militancy. For most Pakistanis the issue isn’t religion, it’s democracy and national independence.

It’s hardly news that the alleged Bush/neocon crusade for democracy in the middle east is bogus, although the myth is still repeated in many places. But what Pakistan shows is the surprising degree to which the Bush administration is driven by actual hostility towards democracy: they don’t believe in it and don’t think it will work (at least for Muslims, although I suspect the problem is more general).

That’s why they were never willing to side with the democratic and secular opposition to Musharraf, despite its obvious popularity. So they can hardly complain if those forces, now in power, are less than enthusiastic about the American alliance.

Disdainful of democracy and ineffective at best in fighting terrorism, the Bush administration’s project looks more and more like just good old-fashioned imperialism: imposing American power on other countries not for any noble or even mundane purpose, but just because they can. No wonder the Pakistanis don’t like it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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