Clearly, a general election in Pakistan is free and fair if it delivers the election to the general.

Pervez Musharraf's mastery of Orwell-speak is unmatched among contemporary leaders beyond Burma. Benazir Bhutto is under house arrest for her own safety.

The judiciary, about to pronounce an inconvenient truth on Musharraf's re-election, is dismissed and the chief justice also put under house arrest (did Musharraf ask his security chiefs who would rid him of this meddlesome judge?)

The constitution itself is suspended. All to defend and promote "the essence of democracy."

Yesterday, the new Supreme Court, packed with Musharraf-friendly judges, duly dismissed the challenges to his re-election.

His action is unique even in the annals of coups: General Musharraf toppled President Musharraf. In power for eight years, controlling both the country and the military, he has a history of disowning responsibility.

He was the chief architect of the Kargil war in 1999 that sabotaged elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif's fragile feelers of friendship with India. To maintain the fiction of no official involvement, Musharraf dishonoured the uniform by refusing to accept the bodies of Pakistani soldiers slain in that senseless conflict.

Domestic opposition to his 1999 coup was muted because of the government's incompetence and corruption. The world averted its gaze from Pakistan and began to bet on the giant democracy next door.

Come 9/11, world attention returned firmly to Pakistan whose intelligence services had created and supported the Taliban. When Musharraf abandoned the Taliban and joined the U.S. war on terror, the world held its nose and accepted him as a crucial ally.

Yet the fact is that on all three critical issues - fighting Islamic terrorism, curbing nuclear proliferation, promoting democracy - progress has been minimal or negative.

Almost every incident of international terrorism, including 9/11, has had some significant link to Pakistan.

Its madrassas were fertile breeding grounds for "export only" terrorists. They have been cut back but not eliminated.

In a pathology common to military regimes, Musharraf could not tolerate political opponents with a mass following. Sharif and Bhutto were exiled and the two main political parties - the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan People's Party - bypassed by cutting deals with religious parties who moved in to fill the political vacuum. In this, Musharraf followed in the footsteps of the previous U.S.-backed dictator, Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, during whose rule the beard count among soldiers went up as the military was Islamicized.

Musharraf has cut deals with extremists in the restive northwest regions of Pakistan, from where the regrouped Taliban and Al Qaeda have launched increasingly deadly assaults into Afghanistan.

Abdul Qadeer Khan established a global nuclear bazaar that did lucrative business with Iran, Libya and North Korea. The government was complicit in, connived in and facilitated, or at the very least knew about and tolerated the existence and activities of the network. When caught out, they put Khan under house arrest but did not confiscate his lucre. The IAEA and Americans have not been permitted to interrogate Khan.

The facade of democracy has crumbled in the last fortnight. Having earlier cohabited with fundamentalists and coddled extremists, now Musharraf has cracked down brutally on the forces and symbols of middle-class moderation.

No lasting solution is possible now without the departure of both General and President Musharraf. Bhutto is right. He is so toxic that anyone - Pakistani or foreigner - who works with him will be contaminated. Pakistan's history proves that democracy brings moderates to power while dictatorship fuels religious extremism.

Washington must move immediately from a "Busharraf" to a Pakistan policy, demand the end to martial law, the restoration of the constitution and reinstatement of all the judges, and the holding of elections that all parties can contest. Both Bhutto and Sharif will have a vested interest in curbing the political influence and role of Islamists and the military.

In the immediate time frame, a government with domestic and international credibility could be formed, for example, with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, a technocrat who has done much to revive the comatose economy, but will require co-operation with Bhutto, Sharif and others. The military must play a stabilizing role in the short term but retreat into and stay in the barracks long-term.

If rebuffed, as reported after U.S. envoy John Negroponte's visit, the international community does have some leverage. The International Crisis Group notes that military and other aid could be suspended. Generals, cabinet ministers and families could be barred from international travel. Officers could be stopped from attending overseas courses. Links with military-run companies could be curbed. And additional assistance could be promised with a return to democratic rule to create the structures and institutions of democratic governance along with development and humanitarian aid.

Afghanistan's fate will be determined by what happens in Pakistan. As one of the heaviest lifters there, Canada has earned the right to counsel such a course of action on U.S. and NATO allies.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.