American Waffle

Indian Express , May 23, 2007

The US government appears to have changed its course away from where it stood in November 2003. Then, in a speech at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Washington DC, President George W. Bush promised an American “forward strategy” of promoting democracy in the greater Middle East.

Now, the Iraq war seems to have sapped the Bush administration’s energies. Democracy has advanced very little in most Muslim countries over the last three years. And some US officials are choosing to shamefully redefine the authoritarian status quo as democracy and freedom.

The world is not perfect. Most of us understand the difficulties and limitations faced by the US as the world’s sole superpower. Notwithstanding perceptions to the contrary, the US does not control the world.

American leaders and officials must deal with constant divergence between their ideals and the strategic compulsions of the moment. Even then, US officials do not need to state falsehoods publicly in an effort to curry favour with authoritarian rulers useful for current American strategic objectives.

Consider recent comments by Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher, who told Voice of America, “I think the Pakistani government is moving forward; they’re moving toward elections.”

Ambassador Boucher’s characterisation of Pakistan under General Pervez Musharraf is terrible. To say that the “Pakistani government is moving forward” so soon after the government-orchestrated massacre of opposition supporters in Karachi is nothing short of an insult to the Pakistanis marching in the streets of the country’s cities for rule of law and restoration of democracy.

Boucher tried to cover his tracks by saying, “I recognise that tensions do exist” in Pakistan but his bottom line was an unequivocal endorsement of a military regime that is clearly undoing whatever little good it might have done in the past seven years.

An important question is, why does Boucher feel compelled to praise a client regime at a time when its actions merit criticism, whether public or private?

If the purpose is to reassure General Musharraf that the US is still with him even if the people of Pakistan are not, then that purpose is better served during private meetings. Why must Ambassador Boucher risk his credibility, and that of the US government, by saying on radio or television what is already being communicated to General Musharraf with large sums of money?

The Bush administration has already provided and budgeted $5.174 billion in aid for General Musharraf’s regime for the period 2001-2008. Some of this amount has admittedly gone towards projects benefiting the people. But an additional $80 to 100 million is given each month as Coalition Support Funds and the total under that head until August 2006 was over $4 billion.

That amount goes almost exclusively towards Pakistan’s security services. There are no publicly available estimates for covert transfers of funds to Pakistan’s army and intelligence services but it can be safely said that the total US aid for the Musharraf regime over the last five years is between $10 to 15 billion.

If after such largesse General Musharraf’s regime cannot maintain security and create even the illusion of stability in Pakistan, Ambassador Bouc-her’s false praise for the teetering Pakistani government is unlikely to strengthen it.

During the Cold War, the words of US officials served to encourage Soviet bloc dissidents suffering imprisonment and torture. Now, US diplomats don’t even have words of comfort to offer supporters of the democratic opposition in Karachi who were killed by pro-government gunmen.