Pakistan: Where Terror Trumps Democracy

by Laura Snedeker

Democracy took a back seat to friendship after Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf staged his self-coup last week, when he declared a state of emergency and imposed martial law. Beyond suggesting that the government hold elections, America’s support for Musharraf never wavered as he sacked the chief justice, cracked down on dissent, and ordered the army into the streets.

Democracy: Good in theory, bad in practice, especially when you are fighting an ill-defined, endless so-called War on Terror against shadowy enemies you cannot identify, much less find.

The rhetoric from Washington and Islamabad is so similar that it is hard to tell which government is writing the talking points. In order to justify continued military aid to Pakistan, President George W. Bush emphasized Musharraf’s important role in the fight against Islamic militants. Musharraf also used the potent threat of Islamic extremism to justify his sudden seizure of power, in the midst of what appeared to be a potential democratic opening in Pakistan, with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto poised to enter a power-sharing agreement with the general.

War on Terror: 1. Democracy: 0.

However, Musharraf’s counterinsurgency operations in the mountainous border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan are a spectacular failure. His coup presented the perfect opportunity for the U.S. to push its democratization agenda by making further aid conditional upon a peaceful transition to a civilian government.

Or it presented the perfect opportunity to give the government a few hundred U.S. troops and $100 million in military aid.

The United States is stepping up the Americanization of the Pakistani conflict, preparing to send in U.S. Special Forces to train government troops to more effectively combat al-Qaeda. The Pentagon ordered new equipment and is currently surveying training grounds to find a suitable place for U.S. military advisors to work their magic.

Maybe this is why the Bush administration seemed relatively unconcerned with the recent events in Pakistan. Although the Pentagon fears that anti-American and anti-Musharraf sentiment will complicate its job, the Bush administration hopes to shore up the Pakistani government with American military forces and expand the U.S. military’s influence in another country bordering Iran.

This policy creates myriad new problems for U.S. foreign policy. The Pakistani government becomes less legitimate every day that Musharraf enforces emergency rule, and further U.S. involvement can only increase hostility towards the United States as a supporter of brutal governments. If the United States does succeed in improving the skills of the Pakistani armed forces, these new skills will undoubtedly be put to use against civilian opponents of military rule.

The U.S. military is also committed to separate wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have spilled over into neighboring countries. What if history follows a suspiciously familiar pattern and the American advisors cannot adequately train the Pakistani military to combat the Islamist insurgency? The Pentagon lacks both the manpower and the popular support necessary to fully Americanize the war, and the prospect of a loose coalition of American troops, national armies from three countries, and mercenaries fighting a regional war is a recipe for chaos, destruction, and failure.

President Bush, the Pentagon, and Musharraf all exist in the same demented reality. They understand the anti-democratic impulse and that the danger with democracy lies in its reliance on small people who cannot see the larger picture. They understand that fear of the unknown is autocracy’s greatest weapon.

And Musharraf understands that he exists only because the United States finds him useful. He is “our son of a bitch,” for now, because he is the closest thing to an ally in Pakistan. Should it become no longer expedient for the military and political classes to support Musharraf, he may find himself at the wrong end of a gun barrel pointed by one of his esteemed American guests.

(For an earlier look at Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf and George Bush, please see "Executive Powers.")

(Political graphic from azrainman via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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UpToWN said...

I am a Democrat but also a student of history.

I love history and hold some opinions that contrast my yellow dog friends. One of my opinions is that Richard Nixon guided American through a very complicated time of foreign relations and he did it masterfully.

All I can say about Bush and his management of foreign relations is that I am sure Nixon is turning over in his grave at the utter incompetance of George W Bush.

Pakistan is yet another example. Yes Nixon would have gotten in bed with Mussharaff, and doing so is our only choice, but Nixon would have never let Mussharaff get into trouble like he has.

There's not enough space here to say how but suffice it to say, first class intelligence, and masterfull diplomacy would be the keys to keeping Pakistan in control

Bush does not know what the word diplomacy really means.

Let's hope we avoid Bush's WWIII

Laura Snedeker said...

Yes, Nixon guided the United States through a difficult time and he can't be blamed for the conditions that existed when he came into office, but he also abused his power, spied on his enemies, and started a war in secret.

It's unfortunate that we've gotten ourselves into a position where supporting dictators looks like the only option. The U.S. has historically supported Pakistani dictators and in that sense the Bush administration is just continuing previous policy.

Beyond the moral issues of supporting a brutal dictator is the practical problem that Musharraf's bad domestic policy is weakening his government and engendering more hatred and giving power to the extremists.

I agree that the U.S. should use diplomacy and intelligence to keep Pakistan under control, but I think that the neocons have let their own policies get out of control and there is really very little interest or room for diplomatic negotiation and non-political intelligence

Jeff Siegel said...

My God, is that how bad things have become for Bush? People are saying nice things about Nixon?

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