In a NY Times editorial, Benazir Bhutto says that Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of martial law "will be remembered as the blackest day in the history of Pakistan."
Let’s hope that is true. But there may be blacker days still to come.
Opposition party members, lawyers, judges, human rights advocates and journalists have been rounded up by the police without charge. The press has been seriously constrained. The chief justice of the Supreme Court and many other judges are believed to be under house arrest.
The United States, Britain and much of the West have always said the right things about democracy in Pakistan and around the world. I recall the words of President Bush in his second inaugural address when he said: “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”
The United States alone has given the the primary responsibility rests in the hands of the people of Pakistan. It is incumbent on Pakistanis to tell General Musharraf that martial law will not stand. The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are moderate; it is my hope that they will unite in a coalition of moderation to marginalize both the dictators and the extremists, to restore civilian rule to the presidency and to shut down political madrassas, the Islamic schools that stock weapons and preach violence.government more than $10 billion in aid since 2001. We do not know exactly where or how this money has been spent, but it is clear that it has not brought about the defeat of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, nor succeeded in capturing Osama bin Laden, nor has it broken the opium trade. It certainly has not succeeded in improving the quality of life of the children and families of Pakistan.
The question about where all of that American aid money has gone is an interesting one. If it’s been used in the fight against the Taliban the practical results of that expenditure have not made themselves known to this writer.
Returning to Ms. Bhutto, after calling on the U.S. to pressure Musharraf to conduct free and fair elections, she writes something that’s absolutely right, something that gives me hope that she could be a bright light in the country’s future:
the primary responsibility rests in the hands of the people of Pakistan. It is incumbent on Pakistanis to tell General Musharraf that martial law will not stand. The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are moderate; it is my hope that they will unite in a coalition of moderation to marginalize both the dictators and the extremists, to restore civilian rule to the presidency and to shut down political madrassas, the Islamic schools that stock weapons and preach violence.
Ultimately the decision about whether Pakistan will be a modern, democratic nation that despises terrorists of all stripes, even those who are fellow Muslims, or collapse into a dark age of civil war or, Iran-like, allow itself to be taken over by Islamic extremists can only be made by the Pakistani people.
Where should the U.S. come down on this issue?
Betting on Musharraf seems like a safe bet. He’s got the army, the guns, and $10B of our money. But Matthew Yglesias wonders if supporting a Musharraf dictatorship is a good idea:
You have your American-backed dictatorship, you have your popular anger at the dictatorship, and you have some of that anger being displaced onto the United States. Something like that certainly seems to have happened in Iran in the 1970s and it’s a plausible account of at least some of what’s going on in places like Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia today.
At the Christian Science Monitor, Vali Nasr has this to say about Musharraf:
Washington is more concerned with Islamic extremism than Musharraf, who as military chief in 1999 sent jihadi fighters into Kashmir to challenge Indian troops. He pays lip service to democracy but views the Constitution as an impediment and elections as a threatening menace. Little wonder that while presenting a secular image to the West, Musharraf has looked to Islamic parties to upend democracy and keep former prime ministers Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif out of politics. Musharraf engineered the unexpected electoral success of Islamic parties in the 2002 elections and helped them form governments in two provinces.
As a price for their cooperation, Islamic parties got protection for their Taliban and extremist allies and a free hand to impose more Islamic laws on Pakistanis. Since 2001, Musharraf has selectively cooperated in the war on terror but resisted cutting all ties with extremists.
There are no easy answers to the Pakistan question. One thing we do know – BDS aside – is that no American troops will be going to Pakistan to bail Musharraf out of this mess.
The risk of an undesirable outcome exists whether the U.S. chooses to back the same tired horse in Musharraf, roll the dice on Ms. Bhutto, or ride the fence.
What is the best choice? Nasr again:
The longer Musharraf stays in power the more Pakistan will look like Iran in 1979: an isolated and unpopular ruler hanging on to power only to inflame passions and bring together his Islamic and pro-democracy opposition into a dangerous alliance.
A disastrous outcome in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state with weak institutions and rife with extremist ideologies, violence, and deep ethnic and social divisions, will be far worse than what followed the Iranian revolution.
The West cannot afford to let this political crisis spiral out of control. Western leaders must keep the pressure on Musharraf, reach out to the Pakistani Army, and seriously plan for a post-Musharraf Pakistan.