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Easy on Musharraf

By William F. Buckley

Initiated as a student into the Yale Political Union, I learned of the reply that Louisiana's boss-man had made 10 years earlier to an invitation to join in welcoming the advent of the new student organization. Huey Long had replied by Western Union, "I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THE YALE POLITICAL UNION. IF IT'S FOR ME, I'M FOR IT." Maybe that retort was the beginning of wisdom, from a man who knew everything about political life except how to dodge an assassin's bullet. But the question remained whether reciprocity was all that was needed.

Still, the bald empiricism of Huey Long lives on in modern political circumstances. For several years, we have been living happy, if not holy, lives by accepting Gen. Pervez Musharraf as the de facto leader of Pakistan and, when asked if he was also the de jure leader of Pakistan, engaging in what the author John Chamberlain used to call the "averted gaze." This is the posture you assume when the leader you are dealing with is deporting himself by not quite the highest standards one could have hoped for -- but there he is, the leader you have to get on with.

We haven't learned (and probably never will) what is the right blend of self-concern and political virtue required of foreign leaders, and this is amply demonstrated by the headlines given to the Pakistan crisis. Gen. Musharraf, when he took power eight years ago, seemed to be acting to prevent certain civil strife, perhaps civil war. And in that volatile part of the world, we needed support for American ideals -- which, of course, include lives governed by political democracy.

On the historical point that Musharraf was not a leader come to power by democratic clamor, we averted our gaze. But then last week Musharraf simply asserted the power he exercises as head of Pakistan, disdaining any presumption of diplomatic protocols, and the U.S. government is stuck. We need to be faithful to democratic ideals, and these have been seriously challenged by Gen. Musharraf.

There are critical observations we could make, with direct reference to political history. The birth of Pakistan, out of the partition of the Indian subcontinent, brought on some of the bloodiest massacres of the 20th century. But Pandit Nehru was not about to step to one side and permit constitutional democracy to refine his ambitions. He simply wanted to be rid of British colonialism and to prevail in as much of what he deemed his country as he could. But arrangements were less than perfect, and it was never agreed between India and Pakistan what the civil boundaries are to be.

Meanwhile, Mr. Nehru pursued his country's own interests as he saw them, and this entailed a near-slavish subordination of India's foreign policy to the demands of the Soviet Union. And today, the unholy mess in Afghanistan, where determined zealots are fighting for the re-emergence of the Taliban, reminds us that there are many people in the area who opt for life under religious bigots.

At this moment Musharraf is talking about elections early next year, and he is in that way appeasing the dogmatic pro-democracy forces. But Madame Bhutto, the political alternative on the scene, is demanding more -- specifically, an end to emergency rule -- and is threatening in direct language civil insubordination unless she gets what she wants.

What WE want is relative peace and stability, an end to temporizing with the Taliban, and tough action against terrorists who seep into the area. There is only the one point to pull out of the consternation there, and it was adumbrated by the Kingfish. We can't reasonably ask Gen. Musharraf to submit to Roberts Rules of political democracy if that would mean imperiling any strategic hope for a nation we wish to be partners with.

Copyright 2007 Universal Press Syndicate

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