As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

It's true that this whole depressing scenario of martial law in Pakistan endangers the whole region by threatening a collaboration between Islamist militants and pro-democracy reformers, as we saw during the Iranian revolution. Pervez Musharraf's main enemy is democracy, as can be seen by his aborting the plan to kill bin Laden after deposing Nawaz Sharif in a coup, and using Islamist parties to forestall any efforts by Sharif or Benazir Bhutto to return to prominence.

Washington is more concerned with Islamic extremism than Musharraf, who as military chief in 1999 sent jihadi fighters into Kashmir to challenge Indian troops. He pays lip service to democracy but views the Constitution as an impediment and elections as a threatening menace. Little wonder that while presenting a secular image to the West, Musharraf has looked to Islamic parties to upend democracy and keep former prime ministers Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif out of politics. Musharraf engineered the unexpected electoral success of Islamic parties in the 2002 elections and helped them form governments in two provinces.

As a price for their cooperation, Islamic parties got protection for their Taliban and extremist allies and a free hand to impose more Islamic laws on Pakistanis. Since 2001, Musharraf has selectively cooperated in the war on terror but resisted cutting all ties with extremists.

Being, well, extremists, the jihadis have not seen this as enough of a concession and began to strike at Musharraf and particularly the Army. Musharraf responded by sacking the judiciary and jailing reformers. He's not even trying to hide it much by claiming that this is being done in the name of fighting extremism. And the danger is what comes next.

Musharraf's interests are no longer those of his military, and the two are now on a collision course. Generals can still end this crisis by going back to the deal Washington brokered with Ms. Bhutto, but only if it does not include Musharraf. Removing Musharraf will send demonstrators home and the Army to its barracks.

The longer Musharraf stays in power the more Pakistan will look like Iran in 1979: an isolated and unpopular ruler hanging on to power only to inflame passions and bring together his Islamic and pro-democracy opposition into a dangerous alliance.

A disastrous outcome in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state with weak institutions and rife with extremist ideologies, violence, and deep ethnic and social divisions, will be far worse than what followed the Iranian revolution.

Our leverage over Pakistan is in the form of foreign aid, which US lobbying groups paid by Musharraf are fighting to protect. We obviously ought to come down on the side of democracy, but even that is hard to figure. Benazir Bhutto may write op-eds in US media and threaten large-scale protests in Islamabad, but it's unclear whether she has a megaphone to the West because of her American education or because she has a legitimate role in a post-Musharraf Pakistan. As Matt Yglesias notes, Bhutto lost to Nawaz Sharif the last time there were legitimate elections in Pakistan. It was Sharif who was deposed. It's Sharif who has been barred from the country. It's unclear whether Bhutto has power or influence inside the country, other than the fact that she says so on CNN. And of course, she was the handpicked successor by the Bush Administration in a unity government with Musharraf, which doesn't inspire confidence.

It's important that the West gets this right, and doesn't leave behind a caretaker government that's ripe for a subsequent takeover They should be pushing for new elections with full access for all participants, including Sharif. The Pakistani people need to decide the future of their democracy.

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