U.S. Rapport with Musharraf Evokes Shah Era

America's close relationship with Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf recalls another ally: the Shah of Iran. It's nearly 30 years since the fall of the Shah and the rise of an Islamic state hostile toward the United States. It's still not clear whether the U.S. put too much pressure on the Shah.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is off today. I'm John Ydstie.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

In Pakistan today, thousands of opposition lawyers and activists walked out of jail. They'd been detained under emergency rule. Up to now, President Pervez Musharraf has ignored calls from the U.S. to ease up on the restrictions he imposed earlier this month.

We're talking this week about what the United States can do to influence its friends and its enemies. America's close relationship with Pakistan's president recalls another ally - the Shah of Iran. It's nearly 30 years since the fall of the shah and the rise of an Islamic state in Iran hostile to the U.S.

NPR's senior news analyst Ted Koppel thinks it's still not clear if the United States put too much pressure on the shah or not enough.

TED KOPPEL: I remember being in Tehran in the early mid-'70s. I was covering Henry Kissinger in those days, who was secretary of state, and there were about half a dozen of us reporters whom he brought with him into a meeting with the shah. And we started asking the shah about all the human rights violations that were going on in Iran in those days. And Kissinger was furious and the shah was furious. And of course what happened when Jimmy Carter became president, he had a major human rights agenda. And enormous pressure was put on the shah by the United States to move more in the direction of democracy, kind of echoes of what you're hearing today with Musharraf.

The end result was that he was overthrown anyway, and questions have always lingered whether if we had allowed the shah to crack down on the demonstrators, if things would have been different. We'll never know.

MONTAGNE: Now, crack down on the demonstrators though, could that have led down the same path? Crack down on the demonstrators, revolution happens.

KOPPEL: It could, and it probably would. The question you have to ask yourself is not necessarily what's in the best interests of Iran or in Pakistan, but what's in the best interest of the United States. You remember at one of the presidential debates just a few days ago, I think it was Chris Dodd who was asked, when you have to pick between security and democracy, which way do you go? And he said very forthrightly, security.

MONTAGNE: Now, that may be the definition of realpolitik. On the other hand, there is an argument that you don't get either under certain circumstances. And those would be when you lose your friend.

KOPPEL: That's exactly right. And of course that's what happened in Iran. That's the question that has to be asked with regard to Pakistan. What in the long run is going to be in the best interests of the United States? It may well be that pushing Musharraf out of the way and moving things in the direction of democracy is exactly the right way to go. But remember Iran. In Iran, we ended up getting neither.

MONTAGNE: Well, so bringing it then around to Pakistan, the U.S. appears now to be looking, if not for a replacement for Musharraf, at least to be measuring who's out there. Is the U.S. interest in other leaders or even other military people in Pakistan something that would be bad for them? That is to say, Pakistanis would look upon them with suspicion?

KOPPEL: I think the Pakistanis will probably look upon anyone on whom the United States bestows a blessing with a certain amount of suspicion. And I think what always happens in cases like this is that the United States gets caught between on the one hand realizing that Musharraf is still someone who operates at least partially in the U.S. interest, and on the other hand in realizing that if we support him for too long, then whoever comes along the next time may have no option but to say we are not going to continue this close relationship with the United States.

MONTAGNE: Just finally, by personalizing the relationship as President Bush has done with President Musharraf, to a degree, has that diminished the amount of leverage that the U.S. has with Pakistan?

KOPPEL: It's nice if world leaders have a good working relationship with one another. It's better than the alternative. But in the final analysis, Musharraf isn't going to do a thing that goes contrary to his own interests just because he and George Bush have a nice, warm, cordial relationship.

MONTAGNE: Ted, thanks very much for joining us.

KOPPEL: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's senior news commentator Ted Koppel.

Tomorrow, we talk about how targeting sanctions at a wealthy businessman and others could influence the military government in Myanmar, or Burma - as the opposition calls it.

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