Monday, November 05, 2007

Perplexing Problems In Pakistan

While a significant portion of people were being consumed by NFL fever yesterday, something really serious was taking place, this past weekend. The Pakistani President implemented martial law and rounded up foes in Pakistan. That pretty much trumps anything else currently on the agenda at the State Department, first thing this morning.

This is a tricky situation here. There is no 10-second election sound bite solution.

Musharraf has been an important ally in the war on terror. Maybe he isn't the best we have, he hasn't allowed us to chase Taliban, from Afghanistan into Pakistan. But, he's better than nothing.

Yet, when we consider the actions of said president, it perplexes us more than we need to be. It puts us into a serious dilemma. Do we support someone that skirts democracy, even though they have provided much assistance while we chase the bad guys that seek to impose their special version of oppression? Do we condemn it, call for change immediately, and risk the possibility of throwing away Pakistan's cooperation? Or do we embrace it and compromise the principles of free elections and self-determination?

Such questions are not going to be answered very easily. There will be no magical panacea fall into our laps with specific detailed instructions, here.

We must consider that democracy in Middle Eastern (ME) countries with a large percentage of jihadists (and those that sympathize with their cause) doesn't do too well when it is implemented. So it is, we can come to realize that there may be a good chance that democratization of ME cultures may not be a realistic goal. Even more so, they may be next to impossible to achieve.

That's the Machiavellian in me, I suppose.

But before we draw some sort of moral conclusion about this, we need to read this piece from the Guardian.

Disengaged western audiences, pumped full of the current pro-democracy intoxicants, will almost universally decry Musharraf's behaviour. I decry it too, precisely because I am a disengaged westerner and I have that luxury. However, the story in Pakistan is not so straightforward.

What I am being told by
bazari merchants, some young professionals, and some industrialists in Karachi and Lahore is that they merely care for stability, whether it comes in the form of the military, or in the form of democracy. Incidentally, many of them believe that it is Musharraf who is more likely to assure that stability. A couple of people, with middle class businesses, suggested to me that Musharraf should behave more like a dictator; a secular version of the previous Islamist dictator, Zia ul Haq, in order to assure stability for business and economic growth. However, that is a minority view.

The democratic push in Pakistan is not some sort of romantic affair pitting slaves against a demonic genocidal Stalin. Musharraf made his errors (like the Red Mosque fiasco and the disappearances linked to the War on Terror) but he is not homicidal. Cinema, music, the arts and freedom of press are thriving in Pakistan. The popular satire programme - "We are Expecting" - has a regular character mocking Musharraf, which does nothing more than grunt and proclaim "Yes!" in a loud voice.

What this all boils down to is, we must look at the stability of Pakistan and ask ourselves some poignant questions. A place to start is: Would Musharraf being out of power, allot for more freedom under an Islamic state? My educated guess would be, no.

My problem supporting Musharraf is even more distinct: I remember the Shah.

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