Thursday, November 08, 2007

In Musharraf's Defense (and not...)

Last night Ahmed Rashid, an eminent Pakistani journalist, was interviewed by Terry Gross. Speaking from Spain, safely out of the country, he painted a dismal picture of the deteriorating political situation in Pakistan following Pervez Mesharraf's declaration of "emergency" when it bacame clear the his term of office is coming to a legal end...before he finished what he had started, leading his country toward a more democratic form of government. Public demonstrations by lawyers, of all people, have placed Pakistan into a tawdry light, resulting in a manipulative, heavy-handed response from Musharraf. Rashid concluded that Musharraf is now in a no-win situation. (I leave it to the uninformed reader to do his own homework. I don't have time this morning to provide cliff notes.)

3Quarks links to a compelling piece from Slate in defense of the embattled Pakistani leader. At a time when everyone around him is trying to eat him alive the US Secretary of State herself (speaking from Israel, already!) takes him to task while piling on US support for Mahmoud Abbas, Gaza's president who has the thankless job of standing alone as leader, thanks to the technicalities of constitutional protocols, in a country that voted to put in charge a cadre of elected representatives that the US and Israel have officially labeled "terrorists" (i.e. Hamas).

If the secretary of state is concerned that Pakistan is falling behind in its commitment to democracy, she should recall that there is no democracy without the institutions of a nation state, and if Musharraf falls, there is no telling what would happen next. For instance, an al-Qaida state would be considerably less accommodating around issues of government reform, not to mention at fighting al-Qaida. Besides, the Bush White House has done such a poor job of articulating what it means by democracy, it is hardly surprising that it sometimes appears to be a major part of its post-9/11 national security strategy and sometimes not.
Consider this: If you are Mahmoud Abbas and you do nothing about terrorism—if your security services receive hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid and training and yet is reluctant to stop terrorist attacks on another U.S. ally and is handily defeated by Hamas, an Islamist group backed by the Islamic Republic of Iran—then you are a great visionary leader of a downtrodden nation that deserves all the secretary of state's efforts at transformational diplomacy. If you are like President Musharraf and you fight terror, risk your rule and your life and perhaps the integrity of the state itself, Condoleezza Rice thumbs her nose at you and threatens to cut your allowance.

For all the claims that U.S. foreign policy has been stripped from the hands of the neoconservatives and given over to adults steeped in the principles of old-school realism—people like Secretary Rice—what we are watching here is a possible meltdown of U.S. strategic interests that is comparable to Iran's 1978 Islamist revolution. Granted, Pakistan is not a Gulf security pillar, as Iran was, but the shah didn't have nukes. The Bush White House has prioritized Iran's nascent nuclear program because our confidence in Musharraf has given us the luxury to ignore an active nuclear program within the reach of Islamist fanatics.

And there's an even bigger problem: What does it say to U.S. allies in the war on terror—especially those Arab and Muslim states, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that are sometimes committed to fighting Islamists and sometimes not—that Washington doesn't support its friends in a battle it enlisted them to fight? There are some Egyptian analysts who hold the Carter administration responsible for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat because Washington failed to stand by the shah against the Islamist maelstrom. Who knows—perhaps the shah's time had come no matter what the haplessly naive Carter administration did. But today, what leader in the Muslim world would dare tackle extremism if he knows he will get dressed down by the secretary of state at crunch time?

This criticism is valid and on point. It's too bad that the vast majority of Americans don't have a clue about what's going on in the world. Years from now we will look back at these times and conclude that we were in worse danger than either Musharraf or Abbas and had no idea what might happen next.

Like voters everywhere, we send people to Washington to protect our interests. Only when they make a mess of things do we find out, too late, that we made a serious mistake.

Incidentally, speaking of lawyers and judges protesting a tyrant, how come when the same thing takes place in Egypt there is a deafening silence from the outside world? People are thugged and put in jail. Bloggers, other journalists, and their families are intimidated...and no one in Washington seems to notice.

Pakistan should be entitled to a little benign neglect, at least. But who knows? The administration we now have is not above anything. Taking out a few key players here and there would not be out of character any more. After all, as Rashid pointed out the Taliban tried to kill Benazir Bhutto. Thankfully the attempt failed, but what more "justification" would US leaders require for responding to this crisis in a similar fashion?

Another opinion comes from CERI Research Fellow Mariam Abou Zahab in Le Monde, translated by Nur...
(More at the link.)

Musharraf exaggerates Islamist threat

Q. But isn’t General Musharraf the best defense against Taliban extremism and the breakup of Pakistan?

No. This is what General Musharraf has been successfully telling the Americans since September 11th but it is not so. He exaggerates the Islamic menace in Pakistan to maintain the support of the United States. By dividing the opposition and discrediting it, he has created a political void that has allowed the religious parties to step in. But these religious parties are legal and perfectly democratic. They sit in Parliament, they represent the concerns of a part of the population. One has to distinguish them from the extremist groups.

Q. Are the lawyers and the Islamists going to join ranks?

No, absolutely not! They have goals and concerns that are totally divergent. The principal divisions in Pakistan are economic and social cleavages. That is something that the United States has never understood.

Q. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and therefore isn't a military dictatorship preferable to an Islamist theocracy?

There is no risk in the medium term of an Islamist theocracy in Pakistan. That’s a fantasy of the Western media. A military dictatorship is not the answer to Pakistan’s problems. There has been one military regime after the other which has left Pakistan in a catastrophic situation. But on the other hand, the army cannot be excluded from politics. A compromise must be found.

Mariam Abou Zahab is a researcher affiliated with the Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI) and a lecturer at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO), both in Paris. LINK

No comments: