If Musharraf Goes

Posted in Broader Middle East | 18-Nov-07 | Author: Ehsan Ahrari

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf

Pakistan’s worsening crisis is leaving a lot of actors baffled about what actions to take to improve the situation.

General Pervez Musharraf has imposed an emergency, when he found out that his recent reelection would be declared as unconstitutional by that country’s Supreme Court. He was already having a lot of troubles with the Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. The General, who only know how to issue orders, and was used to having those orders carried out obsequiously by his military subordinates, did not know how to deal with a legalist civilian, who was intent on upholding the constitution, no matter the cost.

In an information age, the onslaught of democracy is looking as a historical inevitability for all Muslim countries. Musharraf, like his military and civilian counterparts in Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and every other Muslim country, is finding himself as a minor obstacle. As such, he, like other dictators and emirs, has only two choices. Either he should institutionalize political change and manage it in order to minimize all deleterious implications stemming from a major change, or get ready to be swept aside. The resulting chaos for Pakistan will cause awful lot of damages before transforming that polity into a democracy. Regardless of the path that this type of mega-change will take, it seems that the days of autocratic rule in Muslim polities are numbered.

This type of impending change poses serious dilemmas for the United States. In the case of Pakistan, what happens there will have a major impact on George W. Bush’s war on terrorism, since it is right next door to the ground zero, Afghanistan-the place when Usama Bin Laden plotted the 9/11 attacks on the United States, and where the combined forces of al-Qaida and Taliban are very much on the offensive these days.

The chief U.S. dilemma is how strongly to push General Musharraf to end emergency and bring in democracy in Pakistan. If he buckles under the U.S. pressure and ends the emergency, the Islamists in Pakistan will see that development as yet another victory for the “crusaders.” And they are likely to get bolder than ever before in letting loose forces of suicidal attacks and chaos. Needless to say, democracy is not what the Islamists want for Pakistan.

Even the conventional opposition forces in Pakistan are also likely move in for the kill, and are least likely to adopt a course of moderation and compromise-traditions for which Pakistani political actors have least amount of experience, since democracy was not allowed to function over a long period of time.

Such a situation would lead the Pakistani Army-the most crucial power broker-to intervene not only to provide their country a fresh lease on stability without democracy, but also to safeguard their privileged status. If the corps commanders in Pakistan were to come to a conclusion that Musharraf has outlived his usefulness as a stabilizer of Pakistan and as a person who is treated as a valuable ally by the Bush administration, they themselves are likely to bring about a “third” coup in Pakistan (the first coup was launched by Musharraf in 1999, when he ousted democracy; he also brought about the second coup when he declared emergency).

A potential ouster of General Musharraf is not likely to bring an end to America’s problems in Pakistan. It will have tough time relying on another General-since his potential immediate successor will be another General-to conduct America’s war on terrorism inside Pakistan, as Musharraf has been doing.

In fact, the chances are that his successor will not stick his neck out a la Musharraf and be seen as America’s puppet inside Pakistan. That has been one of the chief problems that besieged Musharraf in the post-9/11 era. Right after he declared his support for the United States before it invaded Afghanistan in 2001, there was nothing Musharraf could do in fighting the Islamist forces inside Pakistan that would fully satisfy the U.S. politicians. The successor to Musharraf is least likely to follow the path that he followed and accumulated enormous amount of rancor and hostilities inside Pakistan.

Even if Musharraf goes, America’s problems in and around Pakistan are likely to become only more obdurate than before, and equally enduring.