HOW will the decision of President Musharraf of Pakistan to stay on after his present term of office ends in 2007 be received in Washington DC? “There is no doubt that he will remain a candidate after 2007 and, inshallah, he will win,” said Pakistan's information minister yesterday. Whatever title he assumes, Pervez Musharraf is a military dictator; he is still General Musharraf, having refused to relinquish his military rank, despite a promise to do so made when campaigning for a referendum vote of confidence two years ago. Pakistan, led by Musharraf, is now a close ally of the United States because of the assistance it gave in the military action against Afghanistan in 2001/02 and continues to give in various ways in the war against terrorism. But, essentially, Musharraf remains the same general who seized power from the elected civilian government of Pakistan in 1999; some degree of parliamentary representation has been restored but there is no doubt about who runs the country. Following the military coup Pakistan was suspended from membership of the Commonwealth and sanctions were imposed on it by the United States and other Western countries. Nothing has changed, fundamentally speaking, yet President Musharraf's country is now persona grata almost everywhere. It is probably true that most people in Pakistan regard a dictatorial Musharraf as a better choice to run the country than corrupt politicians such as the Bhuttos and the prime minister from whom he seized power in 1999, Nawaz Sharif, who showed scant respect for human rights or judicial independence. None the less it would be interesting to know whether President Bush considers that his close ally General Musharraf runs a model of the kind of freedom and democracy he is always seeking to promote. One good definition of democracy is that it exists in a country where the people can vote out a ruler they don't like. Does this apply to Pakistan? Or are rulers who help America militarily an exception that somehow proves the rule?