Slamming the Bush administration for clinging on to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf even as he becomes more and more 'unpopular' at home and less willing to fight Taliban, a leading US daily has asked Washington to prop up democracy in the country rather than the 'military dictator'.
In an editorial, the New York Times also asks the US Congress to insist that future payments be linked to actual counter terrorist activity and results, as some American military officials now recommend.
"A succession of uniformed dictators have misruled Pakistan for more than half of its 60-year history. All have advertised themselves as great friends of Washington, but all have fanned extremism while discrediting America's reputation among ordinary Pakistanis.
There is no security with General Musharraf. The US belongs on the side of Pakistani democracy," the editorial 'Propping UP the General' stresses.
Noting that Washington is afraid, "and entirely not without reason," that nuclear armed Pakistan's next ruler could be even worse, the Times says the answer is not to stand by while the general cranks up his repression. "That only feeds the fundamentalist and anti-American passions that Washington fears."
Instead of propping up the general, it says Washington should use the leverage it gets from roughly two billion dollar a year in aid to encourage an early return to democratic rule.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the paper notes the US has been paying about half that amount each year to reimburse Pakistan's military for fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda forces along the Afghan border.
"Eight months ago, Musharraf radically pared back those efforts, but the lavish US payments have continued. Cutting back on those patrols makes it easier for the Taliban and Al Qaeda to kill American and NATO troops.
Congress must insist that future payments be linked to actual counterterrorist activity and results, as some American military officials now recommend, it adds.
Washington's "uncritical support," it says, has also reinforced the general's "arrogance and insularity," which, it says, are at the heart of his current political problems.
"In March, he arbitrarily suspended Pakistan's independent-minded chief justice, setting off protest demonstrations. The suspension came as the court was preparing to hear challenges to the general's schemes to keep himself in power - as both army commander and president - with his presidential candidacy ratified by the current, submissive Parliament," it points out.
Members of the general's ruling party, it says, are now urging him to reach a compromise. Some are even calling on him to open up the election to other serious contenders, including two former premiers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, now living in exile.
Conceding that Bhutto and Sharif governments were badly stained with corruption, the paper says but there can be no meaningful return to democracy without the free participation of Pakistan's two most popular political leaders.
"Musharraf is resisting this good advice, but could change his mind if Washington added its voice to the call for free elections," it adds.