Musharraf, Out of Tricks

Parties comprising Pakistan’s ruling coalition continue to be deeply divided in the aftermath of former president Pervez Musharraf’s sudden resignation last Monday. The late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), which lead the coalition, were able to agree on impeachment charges that forced Musharraf out of office. They appear unable to agree on much else, and notably on the key issue of reinstating dozens of judges sacked by Musharraf last year, as Islamic insurgency in the tribal areas and the collapse of Karachi’s Stock Exchange continue unabated.

Musharraf’s resignation was long overdue, and Western editorialists lamenting his departure are mistaken to assert that the devil we knew was preferable to the ensuing power struggle. He has epitomized the ability of a number of autocrats in the Islamic world to present themselves to the United States as friends and allies, while at the same time conducting policies and pursuing domestic strategies deeply detrimental to Western interests.

Particularly galling was Musharraf’s ambivalent role in the “war on terrorism”: His ability to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds has been an affront to all enemies of jihad for years. The myth of Pakistan as a staunch ally of the United States finally may be laid to rest.

Musharraf’s chronic failure to create a modicum of stability at home was due to the illegitimate nature of his regime. The military coup that brought him to power in 1999 was initially welcomed by many Pakistanis after the chaos and corruption of Nawaz Sharif’s government. But after he appointed himself President in 2001, after he resorted to legal alchemy with a provisional constitutional order retroactively legitimizing the coup, and especially after he stage-managed a farcical referendum in April 2002 to extend his “mandate” for a further five years, Musharraf came to be universally loathed as an usurper.

In the years that followed, Musharraf did next to nothing to lower tensions along the ever-volatile border with India. It could hardly be otherwise: as Chief of Army Staff, Musharraf bypassed the civilian authority to launch a mini-war on India in the Kargil district of Kashmir in May 1999.

His record in Afghanistan was even worse. As we’ve pointed out recently, every successful insurgency in Afghanistan since 1979 enjoyed safe haven in Pakistan—and the current insurgency, which killed ten French paratroopers and wounded dozens others on Tuesday, is no different. In addition to the Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami, al Qaeda, and a myriad of local, tribally-based groups have also found support in Pakistan’s centrally administered Tribal Areas and in its North West Frontier and Balochistan Provinces. Weapons, ammunitions and supplies continue to be shipped from this region into Afghanistan. Afghan refugee camps based in those three areas are used to recruit fighters and suicide bombers who target the U.S. and allied forces across the border. Pakistani sources continue to tip off the Taliban about the movement and intentions of those forces and their local Afghan protégés. This has enabled the insurgent groups in Afghanistan to flourish, according to a recent RAND report: “Solving this problem will require a difficult diplomatic feat: convincing Pakistan’s government to undermine the sanctuary on its soil. If we look at the growing list of terrorist attacks and foiled plots in North America and Western Europe, it is evident that plots stemming from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region are the single most important threat to Western security.”

At home, Musharraf has backtracked on the oft-repeated promise to control the Islamic schools that are grooming new terrorists. Pakistan thus remains the epicenter of global jihad, a breeding ground for the new echelons of “martyrs,” and it meets the criteria for a slot on the Axis of Evil. In fact, Pakistan is an enormous Jihadi campus in which some ten thousand madrassas prepare over one million students for the Holy War. When pressed, Musharraf would announce the closure of some of the schools where “the eggs of the snake of terrorism are incubated,” only to let them re-open later. It can hardly be otherwise in a country founded on the pillars of Islamic orthodoxy.

Pakistan under Musharraf was the worst violator of the ban on nuclear proliferation, thanks to the work of  Abdul Qadeer Khan, the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear program. In 2003 Khan made his “confession” and claimed that he had acted “without authorization” from Musharraf. His claims were at odds with Musharraf’s point blank refusal to hand any documents to the UN’s Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or allow its investigators into Pakistan. As it happens, Khan is an advocate of Muslim solidarity, eager to defy the West and pierce “clouds of the so-called secrecy.” He felt that giving nuclear technology to a Muslim country was not a crime.

The sentiment is shared by Pakistan’s elite, military as well as civilian, as befits the first modern state to be established on openly Islamic principles. It still suffers from many defects derived from its origins. This social structure predicated upon the supposed superiority of Islamic imperialism (ashraf) suggests that Islam is the cause, or at least a major aggravating feature in the array of Pakistan’s problems.

For as long as the country’s Islamic character is explicitly upheld by Musharraf’s successors, such as Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan cannot evolve into a functioning democracy or an efficient economy without undermining the religious rationale for its very existence. Without Musharraf’s duplicitous show in Rawalpindi, it is to be hoped that there will be fewer illusions in Washington about the nature of Pakistan’s problems—and about the problem of Pakistan for the rest of the world.

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