IN OTHER WORDS

Shun him:

America needs to maintain friendly relations with Pakistan. That is exactly why Washington should hasten to disentangle itself from the sinking fortunes of Gen. Pervez Musharraf — a blundering and increasingly unpopular military dictator and a halfhearted strategic ally of the US. After 9/11 — fearing he could become a target in President Bush’s declared war on terrorism — General Musharraf agreed to drop his open support for the Taliban in Afghanistan and provide limited intelligence and logistical help to US forces there. Still, he has done far less than he promised — and far less than is needed. Pakistan is approaching a turning point.

The middle class is in revolt over the general’s sacking of Pakistan’s chief justice, his attempts at media censorship and his effort to award himself a new presidential term without free and fair elections. Military officers are tired of taking the heat and some are now pressing for a return to civilian government. General Musharraf may hold on to power a while longer, or he may not. But it is past time for the Bush administration to stop making excuses for the general. Washington needs to make clear to the Pakistani people that America is the ally of their country, not their dictator, and that the US favours the earliest possible

return to free elections and civilian rule.