SECRETARY RICE: And we have been very clear about that and our admonition to President Musharraf at this point is to return Pakistan to a constitutional path as quickly as possible, hold the free and fair elections on time, because this current state of affairs is not good for Pakistan.
QUESTION: But you can't say whether we still support Musharraf at this point?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't want to personalize this. This is about an action that has been taken. And the action is not supportable. The United States has long argued for the democratic path for Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan was quite far down that path and it's going to be very important to get back to it very, very quickly.
QUESTION: Aside from making strong statements like you have done, what else can
the U.S. do short of withholding funds? And are we talking about that?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we'll obviously review the situation and we'll review -- we'll have to review our assistance at this point. I would underscore that the President has an obligation to protect the American people. There are counterterrorism measures that we are engaged in, in and around Pakistan. There is assistance that is directed at the counterterrorism mission. And so obviously, we will want to make certain that anything that we do allows the United States to continue to protect itself and to protect our people.
It shouldn't be surprising to see counterterrorism concerns trump others. And it would be facile to argue that the U.S. doesn't have a strong interest in a stable Pakistan, particularly when the latest National Intelligence Estimate on al-Qaeda found that the core of the jihadist entity has established a safe haven in the country's lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
But, as Rashid wrote, the crackdown is about suppressing threats to Musharraf's continued rule -- the most immediate threat threat being the Supreme Court, which was to rule on the legality of Musharraf being both president and Army Chief of Staff -- not terrorism. Continued funding to Musharraf now carries the tacit blessing of his martial law. Notice that Rice isn't demanding that Musharraf immediately restore the Pakistani constitution to its rightful place as the foundation of governance. She's saying that he needs to do so "as quickly as possible," thereby blessing Musharraf's pretext of a security emergency justifying his move.
Rice has a poker player's "tell" here. Parrying a question about supporting Musharraf, she says "I don't want to personalize this." But she doesn't have a Pakistan policy -- she has a Pervez Musharraf policy. The U.S. has no significant relationships with any other Pakistani political force, as Joshua Hammer recently explored for The Atlantic, largely because it sees Musharraf as the surest bet for counterterrorism collaboration. As a result, every Pakistani enraged over martial law -- which is basically everyone not named Pervez Musharraf or on his payroll -- justifiably sees the U.S. as concerned not about them but about him. Nor does the U.S., in the view of the suppressed Pakistani public, distinguish between the secular, democratic forces in Musharraf's jails and whatever terrorists he also apprehends. On the day that Musharraf eventually leaves power, we're going to learn that such a decision carries security risks of its own.