Friday, December 28, 2007

Is Pakistan’s Musharraf the new Shah?

The Taliban is on the offensive in Afghanistan while the NATO allies are squabbling. Despite the lull in violence in Iraq there has been little or no progress on the political front to stabilize the country. And now the authority of U.S. backed General/President/dictator Pervez Musharraf is in shambles following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Of the multiple failures of current U.S. foreign policy, the failure in Pakistan is the one that can have the greatest adverse impact on the security of the south central Asia, the West and the United States. Pakistan has always been the main front for Al-Qaida-inspired terrorist actions against the region and the West. Al-Qaida and the Afghanistan Taliban operate quite freely in the western regions of Pakistan and there is now the emergence of a Pakistan Taliban. Despite all the lofty rhetoric about democracy, the administration has backed the Musharraf dictatorship and it’s very ineffective and half-hearted campaigns against the above terrorist groups while tuning a blind eye towards corruption and the crack-down on pro-democracy activists. It is all too reminiscent of how the United States previously centered its Middle East policy on the disintegrating authority of the Shah of Iran.

Here are Juan Cole’s thoughts in Salon:
The Bush administration backed military dictator Musharraf to the hilt as a way of dealing with U.S. security and al-Qaida on the cheap while it poured hundreds of billions into Baghdad. George W. Bush was entirely willing to let the Pakistani judiciary, the rule of law, and any real democracy be gutted by an ambitious general. For Washington, allowing Bhutto to return to Pakistan was simply a way to shore up Musharraf's legitimacy. Now Pakistan faces new turmoil, and Bush appears to have no Plan B. Since Pakistan is a nuclear power and al-Qaida extremists still use it as a base to plot against the West, this failure is inexcusable and threatens U.S. security in a way Iraq never did.

Pakistan's future is now murky, and to the extent that this nation of 160 million buttresses the eastern flank of American security in the greater Middle East, its fate is profoundly intertwined with America's own. The money for the Sept. 11 attacks was wired to Florida from banks in Pakistan, and al-Qaida used the country for transit to Afghanistan. Instability in Pakistan may well spill over into Afghanistan, as well, endangering the some 26,000 U.S. troops and a similar number of NATO troops in that country. And it is not as if Afghanistan were stable to begin with. If Pakistani politics finds its footing, if a successor to Benazir Bhutto is elected in short order by the PPP and the party can remain united, and if elections are held soon, the crisis could pass. If there is substantial and ongoing turmoil, however, Muslim radicals will certainly take advantage of it.

In order to get through this crisis, Bush must insist that the Pakistani Supreme Court, summarily dismissed and placed under house arrest by Musharraf, be reinstated. The PPP must be allowed to elect a successor to Ms. Bhutto without the interference of the military. Early elections must be held, and the country must return to civilian rule. Pakistan's population is, contrary to the impression of many pundits in the United States, mostly moderate and uninterested in the Taliban form of Islam. But if the United States and "democracy" become associated in their minds with military dictatorship, arbitrary dismissal of judges, and political instability, they may turn to other kinds of politics, far less favorable to the United States. Musharraf may hope that the Pakistani military will stand with him even if the vast majority of people turn against him. It is a forlorn hope, and a dangerous one, as the shah of Iran discovered in 1978-79.
You can read Cole’s entire article here.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

We are between the proverbial rock and a hard place in Pakistan and Bhutto's death ought to give us pause and be make us be more careful in our dealings with the country.

No one said diplomacy was any easy matter and there's a chance that even if we carefully mull over our course of action, it might still backfire. Yet, I am always upset more when our government takes the course of least resistance than when it actually tries to take the time and thought to properly resolve the matter.