Sigh.

President Bush personally told Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf Wednesday that he must hold parliamentary elections and relinquish his post as head of his country’s army.

“You can’t be the president and the head of the military at the same time,” Bush said, describing a telephone call with Musharraf. “I had a very frank discussion with him.”

Bush revealed the call to Musharraf during an appearance at Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of George Washington, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Since Musharraf declared emergency rule on Saturday, the White House has faced repeated questions about why Bush was taking a relatively soft line against the crackdown and had not spoken directly to the Pakistani leader, a man he has previously called a friend he trusts.

“My message was that we believe strongly in elections, and that you ought to have elections soon, and you need to take off your uniform,” Bush said.

Has this administration learned nothing from the past few years? Does it not read the opinion polls in Pakistan?

The Bushies backed elections in the Palestinian territories and Hamas came to power. We held elections prematurely in Iraq and got sectarians like Maliki and SCIRI dominating the government.

In Pakistan, currently about half the country thinks more highly of Osama bin Laden than of Musharraf and Bush combined. Do we really expect people holding those views to vote for Musharraf or Bhutto or any other moderates or democrats? Want some more horror?

In the most recent World Public Opinion poll of Pakistanis, it was found that 60 percent of Pakistanis believe that “Sharia should play a larger role in Pakistan law” than it does now. Per this recent World Public Opinion poll, only 26 percent say Sharia should play the same role (15 percent) or a smaller role (11 percent) and 15 percent do not answer.

Sharia. Islamic law of the type that stifles freedom and human rights across the board. The majority of Pakistanis support it.

Not enough? How about this?

Citing a recent opinion poll showing that Musharraf is significantly less popular than Osama bin Laden, Ahsan points out that 80% of Pakistan’s population has strong views against Musharraf. “The challenge now is who gets to reap this anti-Musharraf sentiment. The extremists are delighted. They are getting a large chunk of this anti-Musharraf group for free.”

If Musharraf holds elections in the near term, the chances of an Islamist group gaining at least a large share of power are high. About 21% support him, and about 27% support Bhutto. Add them together and you don’t have a majority. The chances of a semi-repeat of the 1979 Iranian revolution are too high to risk. But Bush is evidently hell bent on risking it.

Now, I am not saying that Pakistan can never have democracy. I’m also not voicing any support for Musharraf’s crackdown on the Pakistani democrats, which is a grave and counterproductive mistake. I’m not saying that he’s perfect. He may have sparked the crackdown to stave off a court ruling that would have effectively ended his rule, but who or what would have replaced him? Who or what would replace him now if we push for elections too soon?

Pakistan has had democracy in the past, with mixed results. There is a moderate, secular populace there that Musharraf would be wise to leave in peace, and he’s not doing that. But. There’s also a moderate, secular populace in Iraq but sectarians still managed to take power by democratic means there. There’s also a moderate, secular populace in Turkey, yet the Islamists keep on increasing their power. If we ought to have learned one lesson from Iraq and the PA, it’s that fostering democracy in turbulent Islamic countries takes time. It can’t and shouldn’t be done prematurely. If it is, the tendency is for people in those countries to vote their religion more than their politics or notions of freedom. Elections are not a panacea and they’re unlikely to fix Pakistan’s problems. Elections in the current environment may make matters infinitely worse.

In a nuclear armed country with a population that thinks highly of Osama bin Laden and sharia law, the risks are just too great. By pushing on Musharraf too hard, we’re running the risk of morphing him into the Shah of Iran and turning Pakistan into the new Afghanistan.