An Unlikely Visitor Gives Musharraf Support

By Marc Perelman

Published November 21, 2007, issue of November 23, 2007.
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A few days before Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte traveled to Islamabad last week to impress upon General Pervez Musharraf the need to restore democratic rule in Pakistan, another American envoy quietly landed in the capital to chat with the Pakistani president and army chief.

With the blessing of Washington, Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress’s Council for World Jewry, traveled halfway across the globe for a face-to-face meeting with Musharraf, who he had hailed two years ago as a courageous leader and driving force in Jewish-Muslim dialogue.

In recent weeks Musharraf has been roundly criticized for declaring emergency rule and cracking down on his opposition, in particular the judiciary. The de facto declaration of martial law has been widely viewed as an effort to preempt a ruling from the Supreme Court that would have invalidated Musharraf’s reelection as president last month.

The Bush administration has been scrambling to flesh out a policy on the newly unstable Pakistan, and has reiterated its support for a key ally in the war on terrorism while urging Musharraf to hold free and fair elections in January. The Pakistani president has indicated that he is ready to proceed with elections, but has so far refused to provide a date for ending the state of emergency he decreed on November 3.

While nearly all major Jewish groups have altogether avoided the issue of Pakistan, Rosen has offered outspoken support for the country’s embattled president.

“The real choice we face is not between Musharraf and a return to an effective democratic system, but between Musharraf and the possible collapse of Pakistan,” Rosen wrote in a letter to the editor appearing in this week’s Forward.

Rosen made the trip to Islamabad after consulting with the State Department and key members of Congress. In addition to Musharraf, he met with General Ashfaq Kiyani, the deputy chief of staff who is expected to take over for Musharraf as head of the army, as well as ministers and intelligence officials. In his letter to the Forward, he said he also met with opposition leaders. Rosen declined further comment.

Such unofficial diplomacy is what Rosen envisioned when he set up the Council for World Jewry a few years ago in an effort to revive the AJCongress and steer it away from its traditional focus on domestic issues. The Council of World Jewry has made efforts to reach out to Jewish groups in France and Russia, but to date its signature achievement has been Musharraf’s appearance at an AJCongress dinner in 2005, the first address made by a Pakistani leader before a Jewish group. At the dinner, Musharraf vowed to improve Muslim-Jewish ties, including relations between Israel and Pakistan, and said he was committed to combating extremist groups.

His determination to take on Islamist networks operating out of Pakistan’s lawless regions bordering Afghanistan, as well as his survival of several assassinations attempts, have earned him the support of the Bush administration since the September 11 attacks. More recently, as he has scaled back efforts to take on radical elements in the lawless border regions, even reaching truce agreements with some of them, his standing in Washington has eroded.

Already criticized in liberal circles for seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1999, the recent declaration of emergency has earned Musharraf harsh rebukes from a number of human rights groups. His crackdown on the country’s judiciary, which he has described as a necessary step in combating extremism, drew particularly pointed criticism.

“The suppression of [the Pakistani judiciary] by this emergency imposition of martial law is a calamity for Pakistan and the cause of freedom,” said a statment issued by the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights. “We salute the judges and lawyers of Pakistan for their heroism in the face of peril, and we are confident that in time the rule of law, which is indispensable to the realization of human dignity, will once again prevail over tyranny.”

Musharraf’s crackdown against the judiciary also prompted a swift condemnation from the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. The “unlawful arrest and detention, unwarranted removal from office and physical intimidation and violence directed against lawyers and jurists, constitute an almost unprecedented assault on the rule of law, the foundation of any civilized nation,“ the association’s president, Stephen Greenwald, said in a statement.

Greenwald told the Forward that he saw Rosen’s entreaties as valuable, so long as they conveyed that the return to democratic rule was a priority.

Rosen did stress in his letter to the editor of the Fowrard that democracy should be the “ultimate goal” and that Musharraf understands this. But he noted that Pakistan first had to focus on dealing with the multiple threats it is facing.

“The most compelling idea that should inform our policy toward Pakistan is the urgent need to keep that country’s nuclear arsenal out of the hands of the Islamist extremists,” Rosen write. “That requires some stability, which rests, inter alia, on cooperation between a strong military and a strong executive branch… Pakistan must immediately cope with the dangers emanating from the Islamist uprising and continued pressure from all NATO countries to subdue the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the historically independent Pashtun areas along the mountainous border with Afghanistan.”

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