To no one's surprise, Gen. Pervez Musharraf almost certainly won a rigged referendum in Pakistan yesterday awarding him another five years as president. Even less surprising, the general's aides proclaimed the results a vote of confidence. But either out of indifference or protest, most Pakistanis declined to participate in an election that was preceded by curbs on dissent. The balloting has actually diminished General Musharraf's stature and he must now take aggressive steps to restore democracy with a vigorously contested parliamentary election, due in October.
General Musharraf seized power in a military coup in 1999, ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Since Sept. 11, he has won broad support for allying himself with the American battle against terrorism. He helped crush the Taliban in Afghanistan and has arrested many Islamic militants at home. In a recent sign of possible backpedaling, however, he has released most of the 2,000 people arrested earlier.
There can be no room for easing up on terrorism or the promised return to democracy. The general made a grave mistake in scheduling the referendum in the first place. ...
The next big test for General Musharraf, politically speaking, is October's parliamentary elections. The two parties in the best position to win them are the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Sharif, who accepted exile when he was threatened with prosecution after his ouster, and the Pakistan People's Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. At the very least, General Musharraf needs to allow Ms. Bhutto's and Mr. Sharif's organizations to participate fully in the election and accept the results. He carried out the referendum to enhance his credibility on the world stage. Instead, he set in motion a test of his credibility when the elections get under way.
When the presumed next leader of China pays a call on the White House today, East and West ought to proceed on the theory that, for now, less is more -- specifically, less tough rhetoric on Taiwan might be best for otherwise improved Sino-U.S. relations.
For Hu Jintao, the Communist Party apparatchik expected to take over its helm this fall and to become China's president (in the) spring, this U.S. trip is about seeing and being seen. It gives Mr. Hu his first chance to view America first-hand, which cannot be underestimated. His meetings with President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other U.S. leaders also give him a certain political imprimatur back home, invaluable as he presumably consolidates power.
But domestic Chinese politics will require Mr. Hu to address U.S. leaders sternly on recent Bush administration efforts to forge much closer U.S.-Taiwanese military ties. How long he talks on Taiwan and the shrillness of his tone will be precisely measured.
For the U.S. side, Mr. Hu's visit provides an opportunity to get a much stronger sense of a relatively young (59) and unknown party operative. Just as important, it's a chance for Mr. Bush to lessen the rising pressures between the U.S. and China over Taiwan. With key administration players enamored of much more hawkish engagement in Asia, Mr. Bush's remarks could turn out to be the real wild card in today's meetings.
Mr. Hu, coming to power amid a high level of domestic unrest in China as a result of economic reforms, cannot afford to appear weak at home in dealing with the United States -- particularly as he seeks to build political support within the military. A sharp response from Mr. Bush today would more likely box in Mr. Hu rather than nudge him toward peaceful reconciliation of the Chinese problem across the Taiwan Strait.
Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao is in America this week for meetings with President Bush. In the coming year, Mr. Hu is expected to replace aging President Jiang Zemin as the leader of America's most powerful adversary. The meetings this week will set the tone for our relationship with China in the next few years. Mr. Bush needs to ensure that tone is based on respect -- both in granting ours for China, and requiring theirs for America and our ally, Taiwan.
Mr. Jiang, Mr. Hu's mentor, is reportedly fascinated by the Sept. 11 attacks and has watched the videotape of the hijacked airliners crashing into the World Trade Center over and over. He would do so for some perverse pleasure, but also to learn from them, and to judge America's response in the context of the enormity of the attacks. Mr. Hu and the Chinese government are judging Mr. Bush, and using their verdict to continue their own challenges to American interests in many corners of the world.
The Chinese were the first to challenge Mr. Bush. A year ago, when a Chinese fighter pilot rammed a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft, the Navy plane and its crew were taken into Chinese custody and held illegally while the aircraft's secret equipment was disassembled and carted off. That one ended in a draw when our people were released, and the Chinese kept the stolen secrets.
Another test of Mr. Bush's mettle came on the question of arms sales to Taiwan.
As reported by Bill Gertz of The Washington Times, China is again increasing its missile forces threatening Taiwan. The Chinese may think that, with American forces engaged in a global war, we have neither the time nor the resources to deal with the threat to Taiwan. Mr. Bush should use these meetings to disabuse Mr. Hu of that idea.
Several million Cubans will be bused and marched and otherwise dragged to the center of Havana and other cities today for the annual state-directed commemoration of May 1. This year's event will have a particularly ugly tone: The official theme is condemnation of the "treasonous sycophants" -- otherwise known as the democratic governments of Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile and Guatemala -- which joined in supporting a resolution on Cuba at the United Nations Human Rights Commission last month. The Latin American-sponsored resolution called on Fidel Castro's government to grant his people human, civil and political rights. Naturally, the suggestion that Cuba join the post-Cold War, post-Communist world enraged the 75-year-old dictator. Only "servile" American agents, his spokesmen claimed, would press such an agenda.
And yet, thousands of brave Cubans are about to publicly prove Mr. Castro wrong. Within weeks, say dissident activists, Mr. Castro's rubber-stamp National Assembly will be presented with a petition signed by more than 10,000 citizens, demanding that a national referendum be held on the introduction of freedom of expression, free elections, the right to private enterprise and an amnesty for political prisoners. The initiative is designed to put Mr. Castro on the spot: According to Cuba's constitution, the assembly is obliged to consider and vote on any measure put before it by 10,000 registered voters.
Though the Cuban government predictably claims the referendum movement is a creation of the United States, it is not -- in fact, some hard-line Cuban exile groups have perversely opposed it. Debate about Cuba in the United States remains centered on the economic embargo and whether or not it should be further eased or lifted. Former president Jimmy Carter is due to travel to Havana this month, invited by Mr. Castro precisely because of his anti-embargo position. The Varela Project ought to move to the center of this discussion, and to Mr. Carter's agenda. Mr. Castro should be told that the United States stands with the Cubans who signed that grass-roots petition. Until it is granted, no further easing of the embargo should be considered.
(Compiled by United Press International)