November 6, 2007

When Pervez Called Joe And Tom

Pervez Musharraf reached out and touched a couple of people in Congress today, Senator Joe Biden and Rep. Tom Lantos. Both men chair the Foreign Relations Committees in Congress, and both have a great deal of influence on how aid gets disbursed, and under which conditions. Preliminary word is that the conversations did not resemble the heartwarming television commercials we saw in the past for long-distance services:

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reached out to Democratic leaders in Congress on Tuesday amid growing concerns that U.S. aid should be restricted or cut off until he restores democracy.

Musharraf called Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairmen of the House and Senate committees that deal with foreign relations.

Biden, D-Del., said he told the Pakistani president it was critical he allow the elections in January as planned, and that he "take off his uniform" and "restore the rule of law."

"It is clear to me from our conversation that President Musharraf understands the consequences for his country and for relations with the United States if he does not return Pakistan to the path of democracy," Biden said in a statement.

Lantos declined to comment.

Musharraf needs the flow of money and other material support to continue, from the US and other partners. He understands that maintaining American goodwill is critical. Without US cooperation, other Western partners would undoubtedly dump Musharraf. Even with us, some may cut off aid and support while Musharraf rules under an emergency decree.

Can anyone imagine what the conversation with Biden must have been like? I can almost hear it now:

PM: Senator, you gotta understand. The Islamists have me in a bind, the army wants stability, the people want democracy, and the courts won't allow me to do anything at all until I resign.

JB: Let me tell you about my plan to partition your country. You'll love it, trust me.

Actually, Biden wound up endorsing Musharraf, a somewhat surprising result. Although he initially made it sound like he gave Musharraf a good scolding, he concludes by assuring the media that Musharraf understands that he has to restore democracy to Pakistan. That doesn't sound like a condemnation; it sounds as if Musharraf satisfied Biden enough to keep the aid flowing, if the White House requests it.

They haven't yet made that decision, though. The State Department says not to expect any changes in aid until it completes its review, and that may take a while. A spokesperson stated that the level of complexity is similar to that of the situation after the Palestinian elections. Given that those elections put a terrorist group in charge, that's small comfort indeed.


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