With a friend like this, who needs democracy?

A repost of my comment at Sepia Mutiny and Chapati Mystery:

On the intersection of U.S. policy and Pakistani politics, I was particularly surprised to read this link off a Pakistani news twitter feed:

Obama calls Zardari, discusses mutual cooperation
Pakistan News.Net / Friday 27th March, 2009 (ANI)

Islamabad, Mar. 27 : US President Barack Obama telephoned President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday to discuss mutual cooperation and the situation in the South Asian region. Obama and Zardari spoke about the “Friends of Democratic Pakistan” forum initiative, aimed at promoting and strengthening democracy in Pakistan, The Nation reports…

Zardari, who launched the initiative of ‘Friends of Democratic Pakistan’ (FODP) in New York in September 2008, will chair the Friends’ Ministerial meeting being held in Tokyo on April 17. The forum consists of 25 countries and multilateral institutions…

What is the “Friends of Democratic Pakistan” forum, and why is Zardari chairing it?

Given that Zardari was opposed to an independent judiciary, and given that Zardari had to step back from a repressive attempt to shut down the recent Long March, I’m surprised to read that U.S. President Obama was actually chatting with him about this forum.

On the one hand, I can understand that if one is to channel development aid into Pakistan (which the U.S. apparently is going to start emphasizing), one needs to do that through that nation’s head of state. And Zardari is still the president. But on the other hand, given his obvious anti-democratic actions, it is disappointing that the Obama Administration appears to be lending its implicit support to him by talking to him in the context of his “Friends of Democratic Pakistan” forum.

This approach might help the U.S. get a more pliant “partner” for dealing with the Taliban in the short term, but it isn’t helpful to Pakistan’s democracy in the long run.

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