Democracy a must for Pakistan
by The Age, Australia
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Australia is more concerned with the restoration of democracy in Pakistan than with who should be leading the troubled nation.
Military ruler President Pervez Musharraf set off a storm of international criticism when he imposed emergency rule on November 3.
He suspended the constitution, sacked most judges, locked up lawyers, rounded up thousands of opposition and rights activists and curbed the media.
The crisis in nuclear-armed Pakistan has raised fears about its stability and its ability to focus on battling a growing Islamist militancy.
Detained former premier Benazir Bhutto has called on General Musharraf to quit and urged a coalition of Pakistan's opposition parties to isolate him ahead of the elections, due in January.
Mr Downer said a democratic Pakistan would be less of a safe haven for the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
"We are much more interested in seeing the restoration of democracy than pushing particular personalities," Mr Downer told ABC Radio on Wednesday morning.
"When ... we as Australians think about our own national interest we think about our diggers in Afghanistan and think about their security and safety.
"We don't want a Pakistan which is ungovernable or a Pakistan which is more of a safe haven for al-Qaeda or the Taliban than it already is.
"It's already quite a safe haven, particularly for the Taliban.
Mr Downer said General Musharraf had been "very important" to Australia in the war against terrorism.
"President Musharraf has certainly done quite a good job in terms of counter-terrorism and that obviously weighs pretty heavily on our minds in terms of our own interest," he said.
"But having said that, Pakistan will be better off if it gets back on the path of democracy rather than running some sort of a dictatorial regime, which in the end is going to contribute to instability in the country."
Mr Downer said he supported an ultimatum from the London-based Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group which is demanding Pakistan restore its constitution by the end of next week or face suspension from the Commonwealth.
"The important thing for the Commonwealth is to uphold its core principles," he said.
"Clearly that is not happening in Pakistan and it's appropriate for the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to lay down some markers like this.