IN OTHER WORDS: Show of force

Until recently, Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf, has been able to defend his quasi-democratic, quasi-military rule by arguing that he encouraged freedom of the press and privately owned television networks. But his current crackdown on private TV stations for the sin of devoting live coverage of demonstrations against his government makes him look like the anxious autocrat his detractors say he is.

What distinguishes Musharraf is that his resort to strong-arm tactics comes after eight years of allowing newspapers and television to operate autonomously. But that was before Musharraf had Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry suspended from his post in March. Waves of street protests followed — first against the removal of Chaudhry, then against Musharraf. He has responded not as a politician who knows when to bend with the political wind, but as a general looking to quell a revolt with a show of force. Geo News, the largest channel in Pakistan, received a government letter warning it not to promote “an anti-state attitude” or “cast aspersions against the integrity of the armed forces.” This is not the language of democracy. Musharraf may not be the dictator some of his antagonists say he is, but he is making their case for them by trying to silence the messenger who brings him bad news.