Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pakistan after Musharraf

I have written a post on turmoil in Pakistan shortly after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. It is very important to review how things have gone through since then. Despite severe criticism to President Pervez Musharraf, the United States has a dilemma in dealing with him as he is a key ally in the War on Terror. Peter Beinart, Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations warned that failure to deal with the turmoil would make this county another Iran. Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, commented that the United States not stick to Musharraf because there were pro-American alternatives to him in Pakistan.

Since then, Musharraf is compelled step down, though he barely managed to stay in power for more than half a year. Just after the assassination turmoil, the United States and Britain urged opposition leaders such as Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif to work with Pevez Musharraf, for political stability in Pakistan (“Coming to Terms”; Economist; February 28, 2008).

However, Musharraf’s authoritarian rule led Zardari and Sharif to impeach him. Musharraf sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry who invalidated his October reelection as the President in uniform. Zardari and Sharif blamed this extra-constitutional behavior, and demanded him to resign.

The Economist argues “Pervez Musharraf’s exit should be seen as an opportunity for his Western allies, not a setback” (“Another Bushman down”; Economist; August 21, 2008). Musharraf is neither liberal nor secular, as he sponsored Taliban until 9-11. More importantly, Musharraf’s unelected presidency undermines democratic legitimacy, which is a handicap to fight against extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Actually, right after the assassination of Bhutto, the International Crisis Group recommended that Musharraf resign and Pakistan restore constitutional rule (“After Bhutto's Murder: A Way Forward for Pakistan”; Asia Briefing; 2 Jamuary, 2008).

The post-Musharraf election will be held on September 6, and competed primarily between Asif Zardari, widower of late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister before Musharraf’s coup d’état in 1999. Are they ready to save a terrorist roaming country?

Prior to talking of the election, let me mention briefly about political parties in Pakistan. An article by Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer at the Council on Foreign Relations, will be helpful for basic understanding (“Pakistan's Institutions and Civil Society”; Backgrounder; August 25, 2008).

Pakistani People’s Party (PPP):
Led by Asif Zardari. A center-left party founded by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir Bhutto, in 1967. Member of Socialist International.

Pakistan's Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N):
Led by Nawaz Sharif. Originates from the Muslim League founded under the British Raj, by Mohammad Ali Jinnah who is the father of Pakistani independence. In 1999 when Prime Minister then Nawaz Sharif was ousted, PML was divided into PML-Nawaz and pro-Musharraf PML- Quaid-e-Azam or PML-Q.

For the prospect of the post-Musharraf Pakistan, I would like to mention a blog by a Pakistani political scientist, entitled Watandost, which means “friend of the country” in Urdu and Farsi. This blog is published by Hassan Abbas, Research Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Harvard University, who worked for both democratic leader Benazir Bhutto and military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

In his contribution to the International Herald Tribune, Abbas says that Pakistan will overcome the chaos after Musharraf, despite recent beak up of the Zardari-Sharif coalition. Democratic institutions in Pakistan will manage the country better than dictatorship, and Abbas insists that the West support them with patience.

Come to think of it, America had been tolerant to authoritarian or corrupt dictatorship during the Cold War. In the War on Terror, promotion of American ideal is a critical agenda. Pakistan is a typical case of such a policy change.

On the other hand, Pakistanis must remember: it was incompetence of parliamentary politicians that triggered military coup d’ état so frequently in the past. This was also the case with the collapse of the Weimar Democracy in Germany and the Taisho Democracy in Japan. Post Musharraf leaders should not repeat the same mistake again. Otherwise, Pakistan will fall into the hands of extremists such as Al Qaeda and Taliban.

The next administration in Pakistan must work closely with the West, regarding counter terrorism strategy and empowerment.