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President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,

We write to you to urge you to suspend all non-humanitarian assistance to the government of Pakistan until its government returns to constitutional rule, reinstates dismissed judges, releases all judges, lawyers, human rights activists and political opponents who are arbitrarily detained, restores full media freedoms, and respects the decisions of the courts. The elections President Musharraf has announced for February 2008 will not be free or fair unless he takes these steps now – well in advance of any vote. We further urge you to impose a travel ban on senior military and government officials until the above steps are taken.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has promised you on many occasions that he would return Pakistan to civilian rule and would pursue a policy of “enlightened moderation.” Human Rights Watch has long warned that Musharraf was not committed to respecting human rights, the rule of law, and democracy.

Now, with his suspension of the Pakistani constitution and declaration of emergency rule on November 3, there can be no doubt. We urge you to make clear that any further U.S. support for the Pakistani government will depend on a complete reversal of these actions.

In recent days, the Pakistani police have violently suppressed peaceful protests by lawyers across the country and detained thousands of protestors. Most of those detained are being held without charge. Hundreds of lawyers are being held under terrorism charges without any factual basis. Treason charges also have been instituted against some. Human Rights Watch has received credible reports that the Pakistani military’s feared Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and Military Intelligence (MI) agency are detaining and interrogating some of these persons. Both agencies have a well-documented history of “disappearances” and using torture against political opponents. The vast majority of the family members of the detained have not had access to them.

In the past year, two promising advancements bode well for the development of a rights-respecting democracy in Pakistan: the emergence of an independent judiciary and a freer media. In just a few days, both of these have been decimated. The judiciary, a pillar of the rule of law and a democratic state, has been dismantled. The Chief Justice, Iftikhar Choudhry, has been summarily dismissed for asserting judicial independence. Almost two-thirds of Pakistan’s senior judges remain under house arrest.

The media has also been muzzled. On November 3, Musharraf promulgated a new censorship regulation that makes it illegal to, among other things, “bring into ridicule or disrepute the Head of State, or members of the Armed Forces or executive, judicial or legislative organs of the State.” The primary purpose of this odious regulation is to stop criticism of Musharraf himself. Apparently Musharraf, despite his strong attacks on the judiciary, intended no irony in making it illegal to bring the judiciary into ridicule or disrepute. Privately-owned television channels remain off the air. Journalists face threats and intimidation from the state intelligence agencies. Based on past practices, including the killing of many journalists in the past few years, they have significant reasons to fear the consequences of continuing to criticize the government.

Meanwhile, the genuine conflict with militant armed groups continues unabated. On November 7, scores of paramilitary troops and police surrendered their weapons to militants and retreated from yet another town, Kalam, in the Swat Valley of Pakistan’s strategically important North West Frontier Province. The pro-Taliban cleric, Mullah Fazlullah, announced his “victory” over a pirate FM radio station as militants hoisted their flag on government buildings and installations in the area.

Under Musharraf’s rule, the Taliban and other extremist groups have grown stronger. Those most inclined to support a moderate future for Pakistan – judges, lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists – have been persecuted. While General Musharraf unleashes brutality on Pakistan’s liberal civil society and muzzles its media, justifying these actions as essential to tackling militancy, his army is relinquishing more and more territory to Islamist militants in northwestern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

A leader preoccupied with fighting the moderate majority of Pakistanis who want democracy is now unable to mobilize the Pakistani state and society against its extremist minority.

The world is watching how the United States and, in particular, you, Mr. President, respond to this crisis. When the Burmese junta cracked down on protestors in September, you responded admirably and quickly. You imposed a full range of sanctions. You spoke out personally. You made it clear that as a matter of principle the military had to give up power, that the violence had to stop, and that those arrested had to be released. You urged the United Nations Security Council to act. You supported the sending of a special UN envoy to tell the generals what they had to do to regain their standing in the international community. There were no mixed messages.

Some argue that Pakistan’s importance to the United States makes a similar response impossible. We believe it makes a strong response all the more necessary. It should now be clear that until Pakistan has a legitimate government that respects human rights and commands the support of its people; it is unlikely to be a good counterterrorism partner no matter how much money and military support the United States provides. The U.S. interest in promoting the rule of law in Pakistan does not need to be “balanced” against its interest in fighting terrorism. A return to democracy in Pakistan is in fact a prerequisite to success in that struggle.

The United States has earmarked $1.73 billion in aid to Pakistan under various line items for the 2007 financial year. Approved weapon sales to Pakistan rose in 2006 to over $5.6 billion. In contrast, in the same year the United States spent only $64 million on education programs in Pakistan ($1 to $2 per child per year). The United States has also provided budget support to Pakistan to the tune of $1.5 billion since 2001, aimed at providing “balance of payments, budget, and policy reform support to the Government of Pakistan.”

Once all non-humanitarian aid is suspended, we urge you to conduct a full, top to bottom review of all assistance to Pakistan. While you do this, we urge you to consider shifting a significant portion of future aid to programs that directly benefit the Pakistani people, such as those that promote secular public education. Such a step would signal that the United States is not abandoning Pakistan, but shifting its strategy from support for one man to support for a country, its democratic institutions and its people.

The failure to suspend assistance would strengthen Musharraf’s confidence that he and the military can ride out the current storm and reinforce perceptions – already strong in Pakistan – that no matter what the army does the United States will always stand by it because it needs Pakistani cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Continued support for the Musharraf government will only discredit the United States and its counterterrorism struggle in the eyes of most Pakistanis. Assistance should align the United States with the people of Pakistan, not the illegitimate government that is persecuting them.

General Musharraf is not Pakistan’s “indispensible man.” He is yesterday’s man. The next general promoted to lead the Pakistani armed forces will have just as much interest in pursuing a successful counter-terror policy as does the United States. There is no risk of the government or army falling into the hands of militant extremists. Pakistani voters have never given more than 11 percent of the vote to religious parties. Finally, there is no reason to doubt that Musharraf’s military and civilian successors will not be strong partners in global counter-terrorism efforts.

Now is the time for the United States to practice what it preaches and support those who are participating in a peaceful struggle for freedom and basic rights against a leader who has risked the country’s stability for his own personal gain.

Yours truly,

Brad Adams
Executive Director
Asia division

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