Musharraf – The Devil You Know

Of all the tenuous alliances in the post-9/11 universe there are perhaps none so fragile as those of Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s with . . .well, any number of things: his own country, Washington, radical Islam, military dictatorship. Take your pick. … Read More

By / October 11, 2007

Of all the tenuous alliances in the post-9/11 universe there are perhaps none so fragile as those of Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s with . . .well, any number of things: his own country, Washington, radical Islam, military dictatorship. Take your pick. Having declared himself a partner in the U.S.’ war on terror, Pakistan’s baby-faced President has survived no less than three assassination attempts by Islamic radicals. While foes in his own country view him as a U.S. puppet, his critics in the West see him as an enabler of Islamic extremism, citing Musharraf’s seeming reluctance to crack down on jihadists in Pakistan and the tribal areas to the northwest. For years he’s ruled with his hands tied, unable to show Pakistanis he’s his own man and unable to prove himself a worthy ally to the West.

Now, with looming democratic reform in Pakistan and legitimate challenges to his leadership, a reframing of the country’s political landscape is unavoidable. On the one hand, Musharraf may find a mandate and lead Pakistan into democracy and national reconciliation. On the other, he may go from impotence to irrelevance. And a Pakistan without Musharraf could leave the U.S. yearning for the days of its ineffective friend. This past Saturday Musharraf won Pakistan’s presidential elections by an apparent landslide. His victory was so overwhelming that many are crying foul. Additionally, the Supreme Court still has to rule on the legitimacy of the elections, as Musharraf’s status as Chief of Army Staff may render a presidential run unconstitutional. Musharraf said that if the court decides in his favor, he’ll give up his military position. Some have speculated that if the court rules against him he’ll impose martial law. What’s America to do? Condemn Musharraf and call for more closely monitored elections, or support a military dictatorship that’s been a lukewarm friend? The answer is to support Musharraf and guide him down the path of reform. An alienated Musharraf leaves a power vacuum with some nasty contenders, namely the Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA). The MMA is the ruling party of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and Balochistan, and are outspoken proponents of a Taliban-like theocracy. As Musharraf has already stated his willingness to share power with Benazir Bhutto of the secular pro-west People’s Power Party (PPP), any talk of abandoning him at this point would be morally reprehensible and pure idealist posturing. Did I say morally reprehensible and pure idealist posturing? Cue the Clinton camp: Here’s former Clinton national security advisor (and current Clinton campaign advisor) Sandy Berger and former Clinton assistant for Near East and South Asia Affairs Bruce Riedel as tough-minded idealists in yesterday’s Herald Tribune:

Musharraf took power in a military coup in 1999. When we traveled with President Bill Clinton to South Asia in 2000, we made a four-hour stop in Islamabad, where Clinton insisted on speaking to the Pakistani people. He made a strong appeal for a return to democracy, less than half a year after Musharraf had deposed Pakistan's elected – if not entirely effective – Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Seven years later, the people of Pakistan, which is increasingly on the edge of chaos, deserve no less.

I love the “four hour” boast. Clinton spent a whopping four hours on the question of Pakistani self-determination and these guys think he should get a medal for it. The full context of this marathon inspirational speech is truly pathetic. Far from “insist[ing] on speaking to the Pakistani people,” the Clinton Administration debated the stop for weeks. Eventually they decided to throw it in at the close of the larger tour. This was back when questions of global security were “settled” with appearances, waves, and proclamations. More Berger and Riedel:

Some say Musharraf is all that keeps Pakistan from an Islamic takeover. Musharraf used that line with Clinton in 2000, but Clinton didn't buy it then and we should not buy it now. Pakistan's democratic institutions and politicians are far from perfect. Whose are? But they should be given the opportunity to address their country's problems.


Free and fair elections will produce a secular government that would have the legitimacy to tackle extremism. Every election in Pakistan's history shows the Islamists are a small minority and the more-secular parties are the majority.

Perhaps the report on the MMA victories in the Northwest Frontier Province and Balochistan are buried in the dark depths of Sandy Berger’s pants. I’m a fan of consensual government—for the people of Pakistan and everywhere else—but without security moderate voices are silenced. After all, Jimmy Carter assured us that the good people of Gaza, if given the chance, would demonstrate their willingness to live peacefully alongside their Israeli neighbors. General Musharraf, however maddening, is Pakistan’s best hope for progress.

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