Musharraf is part of the problem: Editorial Financial Times
Musharraf is part of the problem
September 19 2007; Financial Times
You certainly cannot fault General Pervez Musharraf for his chutzpah. Re-elect me as president, he is telling a Pakistan trying to shake itself free of his disintegrating autocracy, and I will resign as army chief of staff . Give me the sash and I will doff the uniform. There are, of course, a number of catches.
The general is not exactly throwing caution to the winds here. He intends to stand for re-election while still in command of the army, and before an electoral college – of parliament and the provincial assemblies – packed with his placemen as a result of the rigged elections of 2002. He is not proposing to resign his command first, much less submit to an open contest after free and fair general elections.
Nor is he prepared to risk the presence inside the country of his principal mainstream opponent, Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister he deposed in a bloodless coup eight years ago. Mr Sharif was bundled out of the country to gilded house arrest in Saudi Arabia last week after he attempted to return from exile and re-enter the political fray.
The general thereby openly defied a decision of the Supreme Court stating Mr Sharif's "inalienable right" to return. He preferred instead to pursue a deal with Benazir Bhutto, another former premier-in-exile and rival of Mr Sharif, whereby she would return as prime minister in exchange for supporting his re-election as president.
This, lamentably, appears to be the favoured option of the US, which regards Gen Musharraf as a vital asset in the "war on terror", and sees no alternative to his rule.
The general has been able to point to the record of venal and incompetent government of both Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto, who each had two attempts at governing Pakistan during the 1980s and 1990s, while never completing a term. He has convinced Washington it needs him and the army, an institution that more or less works, to prevent Pakistan – a strategic, nuclear-armed power – falling into the hands of the mullahs, and as an ally against the Taliban. But all that is now beside the point.
Because under Gen Musharraf the influence of radical Islamism has grown, partly indulged by an army dabbling in jihadism in Kashmir and Afghanistan, partly because the general has promiscuously sought allies to push aside the mainstream parties of Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif.
Pakistan now risks failure as a state. The tribal areas that harbour al-Qaeda are in revolt. In North- West Frontier province Pashtun nationalism is fusing with Islamism. The crushing of opposition in resource-rich but dirt-poor Balochistan in order to favour pro-Taliban allies has rekindled a nationalist insurgency. This regime's dependence on gangster politicians in Sindh has revived ethnosectarian conflict. The real debate now is whether Pakistan is fraying at the edges or distintegrating – not the general's dress code.
Pakistan needs to restore the legitimacy of its rulers and credibility of its institutions. A Musharraf-Bhutto alliance will not do that. An open contest, leading to a new democratic consensus against extremism, just might.