Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rockin' and rollin' in Pakistan

Pakistan, Pakistan. All the rage is about Pakistan.

Pervez Musharraf offers to "un-retire"

It's been roughly nine months since Pakistanis showed Pervez Musharraf the door and things haven't been going so well.

The new civilian government is proving ineffective at suppressing Taliban elements in the mountains bordering Afghanistan. Indeed, the Taliban's influence is growing to the point where it is now imposing Sharia law on swaths of territory formerly controlled by the government in Islamabad. The Pakistani military is reportedly "unhappy" about the way the government has handled the situation.

Musharraf said in an interview recently that he'd be willing to return to power, if asked. Pakistanis should not discard the offer out-of-hand.

Always willing to lend a hand
Musharraf is a fascinating, inscrutable individual. You don't get to the top of the jungle gym in Pakistan unless you know how to rumble, certainly. So no one should doubt that the man is capable and formidable. He made his bones in the Pakistani military, climbing all the way to the top of that formidable organization, then went on to seize power over the entire government in a bloodless coup back in 1999. Post 911, Musharraf played Junior like a fiddle, promising support in Junior's Global War on Terror in exchange for huge infusions of US military aid. Those dollars shored up Musharraf's support with the king-maker military and, at the same time, kept the dastardly Indians at bay. He's shown considerable skill in playing the Western media. (He even made an appearance on the Daily Show.)

But the superhuman political dexterity required to stay on top of the shifting sands of Pakistani politics proved to be beyond him. Indeed, it has so far proved to be beyond anyone.

Pakistan: Oh, very young

Pakistan itself has only been a nation since 1947. Birthed from the receding British Empire, Pakistan was formed as the mostly Muslim portion of what the British referred to as "India." It was a chaotic and violent birth. Territorial disputes with India set the two nations immediately at odds. The state of Kashmir is still contested, one of the world's military hot-spots. Pakistan has fought three bloody wars with India in the last 60 years, and both countries are packing nuclear heat.

The country has never had a particularly stable government, alternating between short-lived civilian governments and military juntas throughout. But, now, with other parties taking interest in her fate, Pakistan begins to resemble a very big, tottering domino that, if she falls, could set in motion a series of events that the world has not seen since the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

Everybody wants to play

Asia is a big place, but there are a lot of very big fish in the pond. Pakistan is at the geographic convergence of many competing hegemonies.

The deadly rivalry with India is still simmering, of course. It could erupt at any time. When I was in Delhi back in 2001, the Indian Parliament was attacked by gunmen, a shootout ensued and people were killed. Then, there was the recent attack by gunmen in Mumbai that killed at least 101 people. In both these cases, although never proven, the gunmen were suspected of having ties to Pakistan.

But there is also Iran, to the west, which is emerging as a regional power in the post-Saddam vacuum. An unintended consequence of Junior's filthy war. Iran is growing in power and influence even as Pakistan totters.

China, to the east, has always had a certain contempt for India and is therefore an interested party. If India were to calculate that instability in Pakistan provided opportunity to settle some old scores, the Chinese, already dimly alarmed at India's economic and political emergence, would undoubtedly feel compelled to weigh in.

Of course, anything that concerns the Chinese also concerns the ever-suspicious Russians. And Russia has no love for the Taliban, having not only been defeated in her Afghanistan adventure in the '80s, but also having suffered barbaric terrorist attacks from Islamic radicals.

Then, there is the good, old USA and her client state Afghanistan. An unstable Pakistan, with large swaths of territory used as home base for the Taliban would seem intolerable from their perspective. Anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is strong (another gift of Junior's imbecilic foreign policy) and so any efforts the US makes in the region have a strong possibility to backfire.

Pervez for Prez

With Pakistan right in the middle of a mind-blowingly complex situation, it would behoove all parties involved to do what they can to facilitate stability. And, historically, stability in Pakistan means the Pakistani military.

Pity the poor Pakistanis who would undoubtedly view the rights and liberties enjoyed by Westerners as unattainable under the less-than-gentle hand of military dictators. But, in the interests of peace, perhaps a strict military government, with the backing of interested parties (which are virtually everyone) could provide some stability and stem the growing tide of Islamic radicalism represented by the Taliban.

You just gotta know the right people...
Pervez Musharraf has shown his ability to play off the various factions and maintain a degree of national unity. It might be best for all of us if he were back in power.

1 comment:

David said...

So now you're calling for an end to democracy in Pakistan and a return to dictatorship in the name of security? Propping up strongmen (the Shah, Saddam Hussein, etc.) is what got us into our Middle East problems to begin with. I can't agree with that sentiment.