IN OTHER WORDS: Bitter pill

The dangers of America’s Faustian bargain with Pakistan’s military dictator are growing more obvious by the day. Gen Pervez Musharraf was on his way to declaring a state of

emergency last month until Washington rightly warned him.

This week Musharraf defied Pakistan’s Supreme Court and blocked the return of his long-time political rival, Nawaz Sharif. Sharif is no Washington favourite. The violent street protests in Pakistan, however, are raising new fears of cataclysmic political upheaval in the country. Sharif, a wealthy industrialist, is certainly no hero. His two stints as prime minister were seriously marred by corruption. And there is particular irony in his self-promotion as an opponent of military rule.

With neighbours like Afghanistan, Iran, India and China, Pakistan is one of America’s most important allies, and its stability is vital. And there was a time when General Musharraf could have led his country’s peaceful transition to democracy and been a hero. But since he won’t listen to his own people, Washington needs to tell him the facts of Pakistan’s increasingly precarious political life. It’s time for the General to leave the military, for Pakistan to hold free and fair elections and for the army to find ways to support, not sabotage civilian democratic rule.