U.S. Takes a Hit From Pakistan's Turmoil

KARACHI, Pakistan—It might have been Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf who mounted what many Pakistanis are calling a "coup" against the country's judiciary when he declared a state of emergency and fired the nation's chief justice on Saturday. But Washington is receiving its share of the blame from a disappointed Pakistani public, many of whom had been rooting for the country's Supreme Court in its recent challenges to Musharraf's military rule.

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KARACHI, Pakistan—It might have been Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf who mounted what many Pakistanis are calling a "coup" against the country's judiciary when he declared a state of emergency and fired the nation's chief justice on Saturday. But Washington is receiving its share of the blame from a disappointed Pakistani public, many of whom had been rooting for the country's Supreme Court in its recent challenges to Musharraf's military rule.

"Washington's blind support has given courage to General Musharraf to do whatever he wants. He has persistently been violating the constitution and democratic norms, but just because America wants him, he has been untouchable," says Saeed Rizvi, a young computer engineer who lives in the southern port city of Karachi. "I understand it is easier for [the] Bush administration to deal with a single person, who has no popularity among the masses, than a parliament, but this can work for a short period only."

President Bush's staunch support for Musharraf—who remains a key ally on counterterrorism efforts—has continued to alienate many Pakistanis, who often refer to the anti-Americanism created in Iran by U.S. support for the unpopular Shah before the 1979 coup.

"I fear if the United States doesn't desist from its blind support to General Musarraf, Pakistan will turn out to be another Iran for where every ceremony begins with anti-U.S. slogans," says Rizvi.

The Bush administration's rhetoric about supporting democracy increasingly rings hollow to many in Pakistan. For one thing, while U.S. officials have criticized Musharraf's emergency declaration, they are unlikely to cut off billions of dollars of aid to the country's security forces.

"Until a few years back, only the illiterate and hard-liners were against the United States in Pakistan. But now, a majority of Pakistanis feel that America has double standards about democracy," says Zahid Hussein, who works as a translator at a local publishing firm. "If the United States continues to support Musharraf blindly, then it must keep in mind that military dictatorship always pushes the people towards extremism because they feel that they have no say in that kind of rule."

Aamir Latif with Kevin Whitelaw in Washington