||The failure of General Musharraf|
Corriere della Sera - November 4th 2007
General Pervez Musharraf’s coup in Pakistan is the strangest of coups: it is in effect a coup against himself. When he seized power in 1999 from the democratically elected but corrupt and incompetent government of Nawaz Sharif, the general was at least conducting a classic Pakistani military exercise: the head of the armed forces was taking control of the country, as had happened twice before since Pakistan was founded in 1947. His declaration of emergency rule, the suspension of Pakistan’s constitution and his dismissal of Supreme Court judges, demonstrates that General Musharraf has been a failure as the country’s president. This is a sign of desperation, a sign that he has run out of options. It is a sign that it is time for him to go.
General Musharraf has in part been a failure because he and his military colleagues could not decide whether they wanted to be dictators or not. A true military dictator does not try to make a pretence of working within Pakistan’s constitution, preserving an elected Parliament and a supposedly independent judicial system. But that is what Musharraf tried to do.
Perhaps he deluded himself into thinking he really was only a temporary president and that he meant it when he promised to reintroduce democracy within a fairly short time. Perhaps he was telling the truth when he promised he would soon give up his military uniform, even though he has only just arranged to do so, eight years after his seizure of power. Perhaps he believed that the army would be unable to control Pakistan, and needed to use Parliament and some of the superficial features of constitutional rule in order to keep this notoriously divided and unstable country from collapsing into disorder or civil war. That is why he reintroduced parliamentary elections in 2002, but immediately began to rig the votes.
Perhaps it was September 11th 2001 that ruined his plans, by bringing the American army into Afghanistan, by sending Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders fleeing across the border into Pakistan’s ungovernable tribal areas and by strengthening the Islamic fundamentalist forces in his country. Perhaps he would have ruled as a proper military dictator in the face of those pressures if his new American allies had not forced him to remain constitutional and to keep alive the hope of restoring democracy.
Perhaps. But the truth is, that for many reasons, General Musharraf’s rule has failed. Suicide bombings are rife, most notably the one that greeted the opposition leader Benzir Bhutto when she returned from exile last month, killing 140 people. Pakistan’s big western province, Baluchistan, which borders with Iran and Afghanistan, is virtually in a civil war. The tribal areas in the north-west, where Osama bin Laden is assumed to be hiding, are as ungovernable as ever. He dismissed the country’s chief justice when he didn’t like his rulings, had to reinstate him after popular protests and pressure from the judiciary, and has now dismissed him again. This is not even a dictatorship. It is a farce.
It would be funny if the situation in Pakistan were not so serious. It is an unstable country, riven by terrorism and insurgencies, in possession of nuclear weapons. If there were to be another 9/11, another terrorist attack on America planned and implemented by Al-Qaeda, the likely outcome would be that America would invade Pakistan’s tribal areas—whether under President Bush or his successor—unless Pakistan has a sufficiently secure government to deal with the problem itself.
The longer that General Musharraf remains Pakistan’s president, the worse the situation is going to become. Terrorism will increase; provinces like Baluchistan will get even more ungovernable; the Islamic fundamentalists will grow in power and support; some factions in the army or the intelligence services may again try to escalate the conflict in Kashmir with India, as a diversion, bringing those two nuclear states back into confrontation. The alternatives are bad, too: another military ruler, or a democratic battle between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who have shown themselves to be corrupt and incompetent in the past, with Islamist parties making things even more complicated.
But to wait for longer would be worse still. The army, the Americans, Pakistan’s old Chinese allies, his friends in Britain’s armed forces—someone now needs to tell General Musharraf that his time is up. He must go, and Pakistan must make an attempt to restore democratic rule. It will be messy and dangerous. But the alternative is worse.