Musharraf Bends

by Joshua Foust on 11/8/2007

Lest we forget the other Presidential crisis that is ongoing, Pervez Musharraf has agreed to hold elections six weeks after Georgia, and to abandon his army uniform to stay in power. Of course, as Barnett Rubin, freshly back from Islamabad, relates:

Why is this happening? Because an illegitimate military regime could not motivate the security forces it has trained for jihad in defense of Islamic Pakistan to fight against domestic jihadis, even if it really wanted to… Pakistani troops and police are surrendering rather than fight the militants at the behest of a dictator beholden to the U.S.

That does not mean, as stated in the usual blackmail note passed by Pakistani generals to American leaders, that only the Army stands between Islamabad’s nuclear weapons and a mass Islamic revolutionary uprising. Support for a Taliban government is marginal in Pakistan. Even the mainstream Islamist parties like Jamaat-i Islami, who support the “resistance” in Afghanistan, are against it. But the military regime has not been able to provide an alternative legitimate leadership, and its own institutional interests prevent it from doing so.

The military and in particular its leader, General Musharraf, has a vital interest in staying in power. The generals believe their own rhetoric, that their personal and institutional interest is identical to the national interest, but few other Pakistanis do, and we should not either. The problem of how to handle the tribal agencies illustrates the dilemma.

He continues at length, but the gist of it is that American support for the military regime—which really dates back to the earliest days of the mujahideen and General Zia ul-Haq (who was something of a prototype of Musharraf, if the spooky similarities of their ascensions are noted)—has ultimately served to undermine American interests in both Afghanistan and the larger war on terror. His history is excellent, especially of the true complexity of the precise nature of “militants” (i.e. al-Qaeda, which is mostly Arab; Uzbeks; the Taliban; and Pashtun tribes, each of which are distinct and conflated only in error).

More importantly, Rubin’s prescription is the same as it’s been in this space, and among many Pakistan experts: free, open, fair, transparent elections are the only way to defuse this crisis for the long-term. Those elections do not include sweetheart deals with Benazir Bhutto, Congressmen pressuring the return of Nawaz Sharif, or stupidly drawing a comparison between Musharraf and the Shah of Iran, or (let it be said) Musharraf in an army uniform. Those elections must also include conclusively taking the possibility of further emergency rule off the table, in public, and removing all barriers to peaceful and legal campaigning—including, or perhaps especially, from the Islamist parties.

The dark horse in this is Kashmir. From the start, Pakistan has supported Islamic militancy as a way of making India’s claim to Kashmir problematic; what’s more, Musharraf made his name in the 1999 Kargil conflict, which, while one of the most poorly-planned armed conflicts Pakistan was ever involved in, also served as one of the primary bases for Musharraf’s bloodless coup against Nawaz Sharif later that year. Whether or not Kashmir heats up during all of the political churning remains up for grabs, but it still serves as the foundation for the government’s official support of certain Islamic militant groups—groups Musharraf has notably not cracked down on as much as he has his domestic political opponents, lawyers, and human rights activists.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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