From: Niccolo Machiavelli
To: Pervez Musharraf
Subject: Nice Work
General, I have been watching your career with great interest and admiration. Your most recent move of isolating your uncooperative supreme court and clamping down on various troublemakers has been well executed and will probably succeed in maintaining your power — a goal which, as you know, is not just everything, it is the only thing.
I wanted to give you the benefit of my half millennium of observing the political scene. First let me caveat my praise by saying you never should have let matters come this far. This is the difference between true greatness and merely being extremely capable. The great man never needs to dig himself out a hole because he never winds up there. This is why I never bought the notion that Bill Clinton was a political genius. True, he could maneuver out of crises, but his troubles were always of his own making and always unnecessary. The clever man escapes conviction but the great man is never impeached. But while on the subject, I liked his “defending the Constitution” slogan, keep it in your back pocket.
Your next move is to engineer something like you did in 1999 where you got the Supreme Court to justify your original coup under the aegis of the constitution. I know you have recently arrogated onto yourself the right to amend the constitution unilaterally, thus could put anything you want in there. But it makes much more sense to find clever lawyer who can read into the existing document whatever you need. This is their business, let them do it. That way when you re-open the court with Justices who have taken a loyalty oath to you, they can shut down a lot of criticism by making a favorable ruling with the document as is. Probably your team will want to make reference to Article 41, section 6: “The validity of the election of the president shall not be called in question by or before any court or other authority.” Seems highly useful, since that was the issue to start with. If you absolutely must amend the document to justify your holding both political and military power, just copy from the Americans the idea that the president is the commander-in-chief of the military. It already exists in article 258a: “the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces shall vest in the President.” Any lawyer worth his expense account can work out a solution for you with that.
I was highly amused at the fretting, mostly in the west, that you would use this emergency as an excuse to not hold elections. Who are these amateurs! Usually one creates conditions of this type in order to win elections, not cancel them. Think Reichstag Fire, 1933. But because they brought up the idea that the elections might be cancelled, you can look very magnanimous by going ahead with them. With the opposition in hiding and the media on a short leash it should be no problem getting the results you want. Use your own judgment on the timing, you have until mid-January at the latest but could have a snap election before that. You don’t want to do it right away, but don’t wait for the opposition to gets its act together either.
You are going to have to suffer some rhetorical hits from the international community, primarily from the do-gooders in Europe and particularly the U.S. who don’t know how politics really works. Maybe they will start talking sanctions again. But they won’t take serious action unless you do something completely out of control like mass executions of your political enemies. Sometimes that can be useful but I would counsel against it at this time. A few disappearances, sure, especially the Islamists, who will question that? But don’t give your international critics an excuse. Keep things low key.
Anyway they may talk about sanctions, but would they really go ahead with them? Why would they, other than to make themselves feel virtuous? Pakistan was under sanctions of one form or another from the mid-1970s on and they didn’t make a great deal of difference. If the west cuts military aid, go to China or Russia, they are good for it. If they go for economic sanctions, appeal to the Saudis and other Sunni states with oil windfalls, they will help out.
Furthermore you have cards of your own to play if they want to get rough. Afghanistan is the key here. President Bush needs to have stability in Afghanistan as a part of his legacy. He needs an entry in the “win” column. But as they say in Kabul, Pakistan sneezes and Afghanistan catches cold. You could do a great deal to destabilize the Karzai government. Most Afghan trade passes through Pakistan. NATO troops are supplied via Karachi. And repairing relations with the Taliban is always an option, at least covertly. I don’t think Washington would be ready to trade Karzai’s survival just to make some silly — and by that I mean principled — point about democracy.
There is also the nuclear card, this is a huge one. Washington will not want to throw away the progress made in counter-proliferation. The stakes are too high. Just hint that new sanctions will be answered by refusing to cooperate on nuclear matters with states involved in the Proliferation Security Initiative and they will back off quickly. Remember that the real issues and interests at play from the Americans’ point of view have very little to do with democracy. After all, the sanctions originally imposed for the 1998 nuclear tests and the 1999 coup were dropped in the weeks after 9/11 — with Pakistan still possessing the bomb and you still in power. The Americans are more than willing to make common cause with authoritarian leaders so long as they are effective.
And this brings me to my final point general. The real reason you are alienating your supporters at home and abroad is that you have not been demonstrating your effectiveness lately. Your approval ratings are down — well, that’s not so bad on its face, it is better to be feared than loved after all. Throwing your critics in jail should help. But you have to show the international community that you still have game.
My advice — just go get bin Laden. You know basically where he is and who is helping him, how could you not? You also know the man is weak; he is way past his prime. You will suffer no repercussions from taking him down, no more than you have already. If you cut a deal with the tribes who are hiding him to stay out of their business in exchange for his head then they are likely to go for it, especially if you grease it with a large cash payment. Present them with the alternative of taking the gloves off and really cleaning house, Tamerlane style. Yes, they have their pashtunwali, their honor code, but they can find ways around that. Look how they ran the foreigners out of south Waziristan, not much hospitality there. Just incentivize the deal correctly and get the job done. Can you imagine the response from the U.S. if you justified the state of emergency by bringing in Osama in an orange jumpsuit?
May your Magnificence accept this little gift in the same spirit in which I send it; and if you will read and consider it well, you will recognize in it my desire that you may attain that greatness which fortune and your great qualities promise. Oh, and as for Bhutto, watch your back.
– James S. Robbins is the director of the Intelligence Center at Trinity Washington University , senior fellow for national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, and author of Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point. Robbins is also an NRO contributor.