NO other close ally of the United States speaks as frankly about the war on terror as Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan. During visits to Washington and London this week he said that the war had “not made the world a safer place”, that America should hasten its departure from Iraq and that the West should address the root causes of extremism, such as illiteracy and poverty, not only its symptoms.

On the Israel/Palestinian problem he has insisted on the need for President Bush to make a personal effort in progressing negotiations between the two sides.

It is fascinating that Musharraf feels able to speak in this way when only five years ago Pakistan was close to being regarded as a pariah state after he led a military coup against the elected government.

Its membership of the Commonwealth was suspended and the United States imposed sanctions because of its nuclear weapons tests. All this changed after 9/11 because of America's need for military access to Taleban bases in Afghanistan which Pakistan could provide.

President Musharraf decided to throw in his lot with the West, and has since been handsomely rewarded; his country is now the third largest beneficiary of US aid (after Isael and Egypt) and he is warmly received at the White House. The fact that Pakistan's leading nuclear scientist, Abdul Quadeer Khan, passed on nuclear know-how to Iran is overlooked, as is Musharraf's failure to keep his promise to relinquish his military rank as president by the end of this year.

Pakistan has never been an easy country to govern and it has veered between dictatorship and democracy since becoming independent in 1945. Musharraf has provided a considerable measure of stability but, as yet, not the democracy about which President Bush speaks so often.


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