President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf, in a surprise move on Saturday night, declared a state of emergency in his country, citing Islamic militants as the cause for concern.

This state of emergency, called by some of the harsher critics “martial law” and put in place in order to protect the Pakistani people, is renowned for its effective disabling of the country’s constitution, its dismissal of certain (anti-president, a.k.a. anti-democratic) Supreme Court Justices, its cut-off of media and its efficient use of police officers throughout the state.

Perhaps the most celebrated feature of this state of emergency is its successful suppression of protests by Pakistani lawyers on Monday. The General is sure to continue his thriving strategy of containment on Friday when the former Pakistani Prime Minister and leader of the opposition Benazir Bhutto leads a protest rally.

General Musharaff’s regime started in 1999 with a bloodless coup and has been marked with a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of democracy and unconditional support for the United States government in its War on Terror. Even this move toward one-man leadership was a necessary step toward democracy, or as General Musharraf puts it, a move “to preserve the democratic transition that I initiated eight years back.”

It is speculated that the slight change in Pakistani government this weekend is due to contention over the legality of its president’s re-election last month. While some say it was a “sham election” to start with, the Supreme Court had only been deciding whether it was legal for General Musharraf to run while he held his position in the military.

It is reported that police surrounded the Supreme Court building and the homes of the judges, who were feared to have been leaning against General Musharraf. This was an essential feature to the state of emergency, for what effect would these recent drastic measures have if the Supreme Court still ruled against General Musharraf, even without a constitution or military to back their decision?

Of course, General Musharraf’s leaps toward democracy only merit more backing from the United States; after all, Pakistan is one of its “most critical allies” in the fight against terrorism. Publicly, the United States is supporting “stability over democracy,” albeit a few members of the government have called for a return to the constitution.

Financially, the United States, which has supplied General Musharraf’s government with over $10 billion in aid since Sept. 11, 2001, will continue sending money so Pakistan can continue its counterterrorism operations. Some of the aid, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged was not just for counterterrorism operations, will undoubtedly help General Musharraf in prolonging the state of emergency, which therefore will indirectly help the fight against terrorism and strengthen democracy around the world.

General Musharraf’s prior efficient use of United States money has justified the continued assistance from the nation leading the fight for democracy. While he has not been able to focus all of his attention on combating Islamic militants – for much of his country favors the militant movement – he has been able to attempt a deal with such groups in tribal areas. It may not have worked, but it is clear that the General is trying.

The United States can learn a lot from its relations with Pakistan. Clearly, its policy of supporting nations like Pakistan that are striving for democracy is working, as can be seen in Pakistan’s attempt over last weekend to strengthen its democratic government.

If you still doubt Pakistan’s commitment to democracy and the effectiveness of the United States’ policies toward General Musharraf, just look at how the General has sacrificed the parliamentary elections in January. Elections in an unstable environment could only weaken democracy, and therefore postponing them is a crucial and ingenious part of Musharraf’s plan to strengthen democracy in his country.

Instead of spending money in the United States itself, where democracy and the institutions that form the foundation to this democracy are perfected, the administration should continue, or even increase, aid to countries like Pakistan that are trying every day to reinforce their own unique democratic ideals and institutions.

Epstein is a member of the class of 2010.



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