Friday, November 09, 2007

The Mess in Pakistan

For an outside observer -- and one suspects even for an inside one -- the turmoil taking place in Pakistan is difficult to sort out. President Pervez Musharraf faces opposition on multiple fronts, ranging from Islamic militants to liberalizing reformers, and it is not easy to tell who will benefit more from either supporting or opposing him in the current battle. Nor can one say of Mr. Musharraf that being in the middle of the extremes makes one right, especially given his seeming eagerness to trade the rule of law for military dictatorship. In the meantime, while the leader of the reformers, Benazzir Bhutto, might be expected to draw sympathy from the United States against the threat of military dictatorship, an acquaintance (an American citizen originally from Pakistan) assures The Oracle that Ms. Bhutto is hopelessly corrupt.

Given the uneasy, but generally supportive, relationship that President Musharraf has had with the United States over the course of the war against terrorism being waged in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the fact that Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, the situation is a mess without clear cut solutions. Of the pieces I have read attempting to sort through this mess, I have found this column by Charles Krauthammer to be the most illuminating. Mr. Krauthammer, while comparing and contrasting this situation with others in which the U.S. helped to ease out dictators, draws some conclusions:

The only thing we know for sure about Pakistan is that there will be no such happy ending. President Pervez Musharraf was a good bet in 2001 when, under extreme pressure from the Bush administration, he flipped and joined our war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But like Marcos and Pinochet, he has now become near-terminally unpopular, illegitimate and destructive to his own country. Is it time to revisit the 1980s and help push him over the edge?

That depends on whether we think Benazir Bhutto is Corazon Aquino and whether Bhutto and her allies can successfully take power, which means keeping both the army and the country intact. Heightening the risk of dumping Musharraf is that external conditions today are not like the relatively benign conditions of the 1980s. The Taliban and its allies are gaining in strength and waiting to pick up the pieces from the civil war developing between the two most westernized, most modernizing elements of Pakistani society -- the army, one of the few functioning institutions of the state, and the elite of civil society, including lawyers, jurists, journalists and students.


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