Calling the Bush administration's reaction to emergency rule in Pakistan inadequate, Sen. Joseph Biden, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that he is considering suspending sales of major weapons systems to Pakistan.
In particular, he said that U.S. sales of F-16 fighter jets and P-3 surveillance aircraft could be used as a lever to prompt the powerful Pakistani military to pressure Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to reverse his declaration of emergency rule.
"Some of the big-ticket weapons items not designed to combat al Qaeda and the Taliban are on the table now," Biden said. "It will have impact on his military, and he relies still on his military." Biden called on the Bush administration to act more "proactively" in pressuring Musharraf to restore democracy and hold the January elections as scheduled. He raised the specter of the 1979 coup in Iran that brought religious conservatives to power.
"If the moderates don't find a vehicle through elections, they may find they have no choice but to make common cause with extremists, much as with the shah's opponents in Iran 30 years ago," Biden said. "We had better get on the right side of history."
During a 25-minute phone conversation with Musharraf on Tuesday, Biden said, he told the Pakistani leader that he needed to move quickly to end the state of emergency and step down as head of the Army. According to Biden, Musharraf admitted that he was reacting to an impending Supreme Court ruling that would have barred him, along with every other serving government official, from running for election until two years after they left government.
"I do not believe Musharraf can maintain this dictatorship for three, four, five, six years from now," Biden added. "If he engages in a permanent crackdown, a suspension of the Constitution, and a permanent dictatorship, that is not a recipe for stability."