TCS Daily


Our Man in Pakistan

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa - September 13, 2007 12:00 AM

Historians will one day wonder how it was that the world's leading democracies came to rely on Gen. Pervez Musharraf to lead the cause against Islamic fundamentalism in a region central to that struggle.

The idea behind Musharraf's support was that his authoritarian army would crush religious terrorist groups. Instead, the influence of fanatics in Pakistan's political and military institutions has grown under his watch. To judge by the Taliban's comeback in neighboring Afghanistan (with support from allies in Pakistan) and al-Qaeda's increasing activities in the tribal areas along Pakistan's western border, Musharraf's contribution to the war on terrorism seems rather pathetic.

The general is now making a mockery of any notion of the rule of law in order to remain president and head of the armed forces. By stepping over institutions such as the Pakistani Supreme Court, he has unleashed precisely what his macho rule was supposed to prevent -- chaos and civil strife. Needless to say, such an environment is a godsend to violent fundamentalists who will welcome the state's distraction from the goal of hunting them down and the increasing disgust of the civilian population with military rule.

None of this was difficult to anticipate. Military rulers cannot govern without making some sort of alliance with key civilian groups. Musharraf, whose party basically is a spinoff from the Pakistan Muslim League, has allied himself with Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of Muslim political organizations with close ties to fundamentalists.

Furthermore, the organization that he has placed in a position of absolute power, the army, is disproportionately made up of Pashtuns, an ethnic group that is dominant in the tribal areas in which al-Qaeda is active. In fact, according to Imran Khan, a former cricket star who has been active in Pakistani politics in recent years and has ties to the religious establishment, it is the Pakistani intelligence services that have been funding religious fundamentalists in his country. Other observers such as the scholar Rohan Gunaratna, who closely follows terrorism in Asia and has advised Western governments, have said similar things for years.

By heavily repressing former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League, the current government rid itself of the few available means that Pakistan had of diluting fundamentalism in Pakistan's society. The sheer vanity of perpetuating his personal rule undermined the country's delicate balance between theocrats and secularists and exacerbated the already powerful tensions running through his unstable nation.

For the umpteenth time in history, a military ruler who promised to bring order has generated worse disorders than those he set out to correct. There is no question that Pakistan's two large political organizations bear great responsibility for Musharraf's existence. Bhutto's and Sharif's corrupt and inept governments did much to undermine democracy in the 1980s and 1990s. In my three trips to Pakistan in the 1990s, I got the impression that by eroding the prestige of the democratic institutions, the civilian leaders were playing into the hands of fundamentalists -- whose growing presence one could easily sense everywhere from Islamabad to Lahore to Peshawar. It was only a matter of time before a dictator would promise to clean up the mess created by democrats. It happened in 1999, when Musharraf kicked Sharif out and placed himself in control of the government. Then 9/11 gave Pakistan's thug the opportunity to do what autocrats had done in the Arab world: present his autocracy as the only guarantee against the emergence of theocracy.

Leaders in Washington, London and other Western nations have now belatedly realized that dictatorship was not the solution to the problems that had been incubated during Pakistan's democratic period. They should have known better. Civilian rule has been ineffective in Pakistan partly because the military has given civilians little time in the country's 60-year history to develop strong institutions.

The support given Musharraf by Western democracies has weakened the moral prestige of the war on terrorism among many people who think that the push for the democratization of the Muslim world is really a fig leaf for American hegemony. It will not be easy for a future civilian government in Islamabad to sell to the Pakistani public the idea that the liberal democracies of the West are their friends.

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8 Comments

Musharraf
I believe our support of this man is more negative than positive.

That is, we fear that if he falls, who ever replaces him will be worse, perhaps much worse.

The fear is, that if we push Musharraf to hard to reform, then the hard line elements in his country, forces that have already tried to assignate him twice, will topple him.

If that happens, not only will we lose a an ally (unreliable as he has been, he has cooperated with us most of the time), but we will have a situation in which radical extremists will have in their control, all of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

If Musharraf falls, India will be forced to react to the heightened threat to their existence.

Nobody cares much for Musharraf's policies, or his govt, but a world without him will be much worse.

House of cards
Hidden in the text of the article is the real message-- that the Taliban is in actuality the de facto government of Pushtunistan-- a tribal region stretching across both sides of the Paki-Afghan border. And that it does not have to formally come to power in either region to exercise a great, possibly deciding, measure of political control. The borders, as drawn on American maps, have it wrong.

As well, Wahhabi Islamists exercise strong, possibly dominant influence in the ISI-- Pakistan's national security service. And without the acquiescence of the ISI, Musharraf would have collapsed some time ago. So within the complex structure of Pakistan's political system, the United States depends on Musharraf, while Musharraf depends on our enemies for his own support.

The system has proven to be very stable over the past six years. But times are about to change.

Musharraf will fall...
and India will respond. Having spent some time amongst Pakistani citizens I know they hate the nation of India far more than they dislike the US. Add to that a nuclear arsenal, on both sides, and then throw in a fanatical Islamic leadership and you have one hell of blast waiting to go off.

Horrible to imagine but I don't believe anyone can do anything to stop it once it progresses.

will fall
It's possible that P could go to war again with India, but not probable because the more clever ones there know that they would lose any more wars they have with India, just like they lost all the previous ones. But let's say some idiots in Paki. do start a war, then get wiped out: what's the problem again?

what's the problem?? Pakistan has nuclear weapons
you want those floating around loose in the Islamic world going to the hgh bidder?

Sad...
>"But let's say some idiots in Paki. do start a war, then get wiped out: what's the problem again?"

The problem is that not every Pakistani is an idiot. Many innocent lives would be destroyed in a nuclear exchange with a majority of those obliterated not responsible for it.

Clever people do not start a nuclear exchange but good, upstanding people can be destroyed when the Islamofascists in charge of their nation believe it is time to visit Allah.

Not to mention the millions of Indians who would no doubt suffer or the effects such an exchange would have on the global economy.

But hey, it's just a bunch of little brown savages right?

sadness all around
More like; it's the same sad fate that all thru history, all over the place, all kinds of races of people, have to suffer from the idiots in government who misrule them. So I also felt sad when the japs got nukes and Mao killed off so many chinamen. But it's nothing we can do about, unless you recommend that some somebody prevent the pakis, and north koreas, and iranians from getting nukes.

problem
That already exists, none of those crappy countries were supposed to get nukes, but they violated that agreement, and nobody stopped them. Now they have them and it will probably lead to disaster one of these days, but by accident. Because in the pakis case they know they can't win.

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