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Originally published November 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 7, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Eloquence in Pakistan

Chaos in Pakistan forces Americans to weigh their belief in democracy with concern for security and fear of the unknown. The government of President...

Chaos in Pakistan forces Americans to weigh their belief in democracy with concern for security and fear of the unknown.

The government of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan has removed whatever moral legitimacy it had — and it came to power by coup — by shutting down private-sector TV, suspending the constitution, arresting justices of its supreme court and trying to swear in obedient replacements. The American sympathy for democracy and the rule of law puts us on the side of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, 58, who has emerged as the hero of civilized government. Removed from office by Musharraf and placed under house arrest, Chaudhry smuggled out a statement in which he asked the people to stand up for Pakistan's constitution. "Don't be afraid," he said. "God will help us, and the day will come when you'll see the constitution supreme and no dictatorship for a long time."

It is difficult for Americans to relate to such events. Seventy years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court, which is one of the things Musharraf is trying to do. But FDR tried to do it in a constitutional way, and when Congress refused, he gave up on it. Another president, Abraham Lincoln, suspended the right of habeas corpus in order to enforce a military draft, and our current president has weakened that right. But what is happening in Pakistan is outside Americans' experience.

President Bush has called for Musharraf to end repression and hold free elections. Bush has not suspended foreign aid. A tougher stand would better fit the American soul, and yet there are practical reasons for restraint.

America's ability to influence events in a country of 165 million people halfway around the world is limited, and its right to do so is not obvious. Pakistan is a sore spot of radical Islam, and might incubate a government much more troublesome than Musharraf's. Caution is the best policy. Still, our sympathy is with Justice Chaudhry, and the cause he so eloquently represents.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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