Pakistan Dictator Consolidates Power
Nick Gvosdev, editor of The National Interest, draws some parallels with Indian politics from three decades ago.
I realize that neither Pakistanis nor Indians may appreciate comparing General Pervez Musharraf with Indira Gandhi, but I can’t help but note some of the parallels between Musharraf’s decision and the one taken by Gandhi back in 1975. Both were facing Supreme Court decisions that could have affected their ability to remain in power; both were coping with an emboldened political opposition; both had their own in-house militants/terrorists (Naxalites in India; Al-Qaeda/Taliban in Pakistan); and both made the argument that law and order was needed to ensure a real transition to democracy at some undisclosed point in the future.
An interesting prediction, then: when Gandhi lifted the Emergency in 1977, she thought she was going to sweep parliamentary elections because there had been economic growth and stability; instead, the opposition managed to finally unite and swept the vote. So it may be that the impact of this emergency in Pakistan will be to finally get a fractious and divided opposition to work together. Again, however, the experience in India in the late 1970s showed that over time a religious conservative and a secular socialist coalition could not endure in government–again possible lessons for Pakistan.
May it be so. Commenters correctly note that Gandhi was at least elected democratically whereas Musharraf seized power via military coup. That’s seldom a direct path to true democracy, since it legitimates the right of the generals to decide that the politicians are making a mess of things and it is therefore the duty of the military to take the reins.
Shahan Mufti and Mark Sappenfield, correspondents for the Christian Science Monitor, cut through Mushararraf’s self-justification.
Despite his assertions to the contrary, his decision has little to do with terrorism, analysts say, adding that his was a political calculation. With the Supreme Court threatening to declare his presidency illegal in a ruling this week, Musharraf struck preemptively against his foes.
Under the emergency order, he has sacked more than half of the Supreme Court, jailed up to 500 opposition party leaders, and shut down the independent media — assuming that the US has invested too much in him and the war on terror to withdraw its patronage. The order may also delay parliamentary elections, which had been scheduled to take place before Jan. 15.
It marks an important moment for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. As one of the last opposition figures who is not under arrest, she is uniquely situated to rally the masses against the president, says Hassan Askari Rizvi, an independent political scientist. Whether she does could determine how long Musharraf survives politically. “Much depends on Bhutto,” says Professor Rizvi. “If she decides to go to the streets, it can make an impact.”
Over the long term, however, Musharraf’s decision risks exposing his weaknesses further. During the five years since Pakistan’s last elections, Musharraf has always had at least the appearance of a democratic government supporting him. Now, that has all but vanished, and if either Bhutto or the lawyers can mount significant public opposition to him, the Army might be left with no option but to dispense with one of their own — as they have done before.
There are no early signs that Bhutto or the military are going to make any moves in that direction, however, and the Bush administration’s options are exceedingly limited given the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Steven Taylor draws yet another historical parallel: “US support for the Shah’s regime was linked to anti-communism, just as our alliance with Musharraf was linked to anti-terrorism. In both cases the foreign policy goals trumped all else.” For those not old enough to remember, let’s just say that didn’t end well.
Then again, absent a policy change much, much earlier, it’s far from clear what else the United States could have done. President Carter perhaps made the worst of all decisions, simultaneously refusing to back the Shah against Khomeini and his goons and yet giving him sanctuary in the United States and thus further inflaming anti-American sentiments. Still, it’s not as if Jeffersonian democracy was an available policy option.
Similarly, it’s far from clear what it is that the Bush administration can do at this point. Musharraf is a thug and, contrary to the old saw, he’s not really even our thug. But it’s not at all clear that Bhutto is a much better option, much less that there’s much we can do to bolster the democratic opposition. Indeed, the United States taking an active role in Pakistani internal affairs would almost certainly hinder rather than help our cause.