Thursday, October 14, 1999

Coup in Pakistan is
a step backward

Bullet The issue: The army has seized power in Pakistan and deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Bullet Our view: The generals should be pressured to restore civilian government quickly.

Pakistan has spent nearly half of the 52 years since its birth under military rule. The army intervened in 1958, 1969 and 1977. So the bloodless coup Tuesday that deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was by no means unprecedented. Even when civilians led the government, the threat of a coup has never been entirely absent.

However, Pakistan has had civilian rule by elected governments since 1985, so the latest coup is a disturbing step backward. It comes a year after both Pakistan and its arch-enemy, India, exploded nuclear devices, indicating a capability to launch nuclear attacks.

Sharif is believed to have antagonized the generals when, under prodding by President Clinton, he ordered the withdrawal of troops from the mountainous border with Indian-occupied Kashmir, where skirmishes occurred last summer. The army reportedly launched the attacks in Kashmir without Sharif's knowledge -- an example of the military's power even under a civilian government.

Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, the army chief of staff, was fired by Sharif but responded immediately by seizing power, emphatically asserting the military's dominance. The general vowed to save the nation from economic ruin and anarchy.

In fact, Pakistan has long been plagued by violence, corruption and severe poverty. In the last decade or so, Sharif and his rival, Benazir Bhutto, have taken turns hurling accusations of corruption at each other while alternating as prime minister. Sharif had also been accused of weakening the judiciary and provincial governments.

There may be a glimmer of hope in the fact that, unlike the previous military interventions, Musharraf did not declare martial law, which would have dissolved parliament and abrogated or suspended the country's constitution. The generals are hinting that they intend to restore civilian rule soon.

The world's greatest concern in this situation is another India-Pakistan war, of which there have already been three. Obviously the presence of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of both countries makes that prospect more fearsome. A military government in Pakistan may be more likely to launch another war.

The generals should be pressured to return power to a civilian government as soon as possible, either by restoring Sharif to office or holding elections.

They should also be told that another war with India should be avoided at all costs. It would solve nothing and run the risk of escalating into a disaster for both countries. Washington should drive that point home by using aid programs as leverage.

Tobacco industry
candor on health

Bullet The issue: Philip Morris has admitted on its Internet site that smoking is both harmful and addictive.

Bullet Our view: The company should take the next step and accept regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.

THE acknowledgment by Philip Morris Cos. Inc. that cigarette smoking is not only unsafe but addictive is a jarring whiff of candor. The tobacco companies have come a long way since their executives vowed before Congress that they were unaware of causing any harm. It is time for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate their dangerous products.

Philip Morris admits the threats to health of its product in a newly launched Internet page that includes numerous links damning smoking in even stronger terms and providing tips on how to quit.

The company admits on the web site that "there is no 'safe' cigarette" and that "cigarette smoking is addictive, as that term is most commonly used today." It adds: "There is an overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases in smokers. Smokers are far more likely to develop serious diseases, like lung cancer, than nonsmokers."

The tobacco industry has agreed to pay $246 billion in compensation to the 50 states over 25 years for health costs incurred and accepted restrictions in exchange for the withdrawal of lawsuits. It still faces dozens of lawsuits by individual smokers and a suit by the federal government seeking to recover the $20 billion a year it spends on smoking-related health programs.

Philip Morris apparently is trying to convince the public that it manufactures not only harmful products but also healthful ones through its Kraft Foods subsidiary -- Jell-O, Maxwell House coffee and Oscar Mayer meats, for example. TV commercials to that effect have begun to air.

Meanwhile, states are struggling to keep minors from picking up the smoking habit. The number of Hawaii stores selling cigarettes to minors has dropped from 44 percent in 1996 to 11.3 percent, contrary to erroneous information in an American Medical Association peer-review journal.

Despite that progress, smoking-related illnesses will remain one of the country's major problems as long the tobacco industry succeeds in hooking youngsters on nicotine. Philip Morris could reduce the harm it causes by subjecting itself to FDA regulation.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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