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Oppression equals instability Musharraf's crackdown demonstrates once again what Bush claims to know

President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other members of the administration have said more than once that they get it. They have pointed out that many years of U.S. foreign policy in which we put the desire for stability ahead of the need for democracy has brought the world neither stability nor democracy.

It is unlikely, however, that anyone in the White House is feeling vindicated today, even though the weekend crackdown by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf serves as further proof of that pronouncement.

Events there show that our government has continued to favor at least one anti-democratic strongman in the foolish hope that he could keep the lid on a volatile nation and ferret out the remnants of al-Qaida that are thought to be scurrying around his country.

Though the Pakistani constitution has been suspended, justices of the Supreme Court are locked in their own homes, hundreds of political activists have been jailed and independent TV stations have been silenced, the result has been anything but stability in the streets or the body politic of Pakistan.

Lawyers, outraged at the suspension of the rule of law, have been pelting police and collaborationist judges with eggs, and now many of them are in jail. Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who had been trying to reach an accommodation with Musharraf, now plans a major protest at which thousands of people will dare the police to arrest them.

Musharraf's stated reason for the crackdown, launched over the objections of the United States, is that Islamic extremists are posing an unacceptable threat to Pakistan's security. He has heard Bush use that as an excuse for all manner of improper things, though nothing on this scale.

But the real reason for this denial of democracy is more likely the fact that his nation's supreme court was, reportedly, about to rule that it was illegal for Musharraf to have run in the presidential election he won last month. In other words, he isn't worried about Pakistan's security, just his own.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, is in a no-win situation of its own making. Having moved the bulk of our exhausted armed forces to the optional war in Iraq, the administration has made itself dependent on Musharraf's unreliable willingness and ability to pursue al-Qaida in the rough border territories, pouring military aid and presidential praise upon our supposed partner in the war on terror.

But Musharraf's latest stunts have only emboldened terror, destabilized the nuclear-armed Pakistani government and left the United States with no good horse running in the race for regional power.

Apparently, when it comes to seeing that democracy builds stability, rather than undermines it, the Bush administration is still not able to practice what it preaches.

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