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November 11, 2007

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has cracked down on the very citizens best equipped to promote civil society, nurture political moderates and counter extremism in his Muslim nation. As protests against his imposition of emergency rule intensified, the arrests of lawyers, intellectuals and human rights activists expanded to include students and opposition members.

On Friday, Pakistani authorities detained opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in her home and quashed a protest march she was to lead. Mr. Musharraf's international colleagues - most notably President Bush - must hold him to account for those actions, despite his pledge last week to hold national elections in mid-February. Why should anyone believe he will keep that promise?

Mr. Musharraf is doing whatever it takes to ensure his second term. He has dismissed contentious members of Pakistan's Supreme Court and stacked it with supporters, appointments that belie his stated concerns over extremist elements in the country. He is silencing political dissent and opposition to his dual role as president and chief of the army with force and at the expense of the rule of law.

Mr. Bush must continue to insist on an immediate restoration of democracy ; after all, the Pakistani president made the commitment after President Bush told him plainly "to have the elections as scheduled and take your uniform off." Even then, Mr. Musharraf delayed the elections by a month, and it's not certain that jailed Pakistanis will be released by then. A vote without their participation would be a sham.

Mr. Bush has relied on Mr. Musharraf and his army as a critical partner in the war on terror, and the United States spends millions of dollars a month to keep that army fighting on America's behalf. But Mr. Musharraf has taken his eye off the fundamentalists and extremists while locking up members of Pakistan's political center.

Those proponents of the rule of law aren't strapping on suicide bombs, and they certainly aren't the people who pose a threat to the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

The likelihood of restoring law, order and democracy to Pakistan diminishes as more Pakistanis end up bloodied and in jail.

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