Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Time to Cut off the Strong Man? TNR’s Peter Bergen lambasts Bush’s trust in Masharraf

Posted by K.E. White on July 13, 2007

Proliferation Press Commentary Roundup

What should American foreign policy be towards Pakistan? Picking up from an earlier blog about Daniel Markey’s recent Foreign Affairs article, Proliferation Press turns it’s eyes to The New Republic (TNR).

TNR’s Peter Begen seems to be a touch harsher on Masharraf: opting for Musharraf to make a power sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto—a former Pakistani prime minister:

…Perhaps it is not surprising that a dictator would convince himself that only he can save his country. What is surprising is that Musharraf has managed to convince others as well. And no one has fallen for this hoax harder than President Bush. It is a central plank of the administration’s foreign policy that democratization is the best way to counter militant Islamists. Yet Bush has been strikingly silent on the need for Musharraf to loosen his grip on Pakistan, the world’s second-largest Muslim country. Contra the widespread myth that democracy would merely empower Pakistan’s Islamists, it would likely damage the MMA, the coalition of religious parties that has never succeeded in winning more than 12 percent of the vote. (And that was in the 2002 election, which Musharraf fixed to disadvantage the two main secular parties.) In fact, polling indicates that the MMA will garner around 5 percent of ballots in the upcoming election. The Islamist militants of the Red Mosque, in other words, may be feisty enough to weaken Musharraf politically through their protests and violence, but they are not nearly numerous enough to run the country.

So who might benefit from the upcoming vote, if not the Islamists? That’s where Benazir Bhutto comes in. For months, Islamabad was atwitter about the nature of the deal Musharraf and Bhutto were widely presumed to be cutting. The rumored agreement would allow Bhutto to return to Pakistan to campaign for her party–although not to run for prime minister, as she has already served the two terms allowable under the present constitution–while Musharraf would drop the corruption charges that he used to chase her out of the country in the first place. Bhutto would then play the key role in selecting the next prime minister. For his part, Musharraf would retain the presidency.

That deal now appears to be in jeopardy after riots in Karachi in May, where members of a party allied with Musharraf killed a number of Bhutto’s supporters. Musharraf has also recently reiterated that Bhutto is banned from Pakistan. However, that won’t necessarily stop Bhutto from returning to her homeland, since she probably wins no matter what Musharraf does. If he throws her in jail, he turns her into a martyr and summons potent memories of the military dictator Muhammad Zia’s imprisonment and execution of her popular father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. If he does nothing when Bhutto returns, she will be greeted as a heroine by the millions who will attend her political rallies.

And so the coming months will likely present Musharraf with a choice. He can assert his authority as a rigid autocrat. Or he can agree to some sort of power-sharing arrangement with Bhutto and her allies–a deal that would cement an alliance between the secular political parties and the military based on a liberal, moderate vision of Pakistan’s future, but one that would effectively end his one-man rule. Hassan Abbas, a former senior Pakistani police official now at Harvard’s Kennedy School, is not optimistic that Musharraf will do the right thing. “All the signs are that he will rig the elections,” he predicts. Whatever choice he makes, the Pakistani leader’s grasp on power has never seemed so tenuous. Abdul Rashid Ghazi may be dead, but Musharraf’s problems are just beginning.

Markey offers a voice of caution, urging incremental change in Pakistan. Markey’s article points to the dangers of America pushing rapid democratization. Bergen seems to want a middle-ground position: having a caretaking period with Bhutto and Musharaff, followed by elections. The intervening time will cool of Pakistan’s extremist voices.

Two things are clear: More debate is needed on this middle ground, and America must carefully gauge how even well-intention moves might backfire.

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One Response to “Time to Cut off the Strong Man? TNR’s Peter Bergen lambasts Bush’s trust in Masharraf”

  1. […] are two previous posts on the Pakistan […]

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