The Corner

The one and only.

Musharraf Debate Cont.


I’ve commented on Daniel Markey’s piece in the FP debate over America’s stance toward Musharraf. Now a word on Husain Haqqani’s brief for abandoning Musharraf. Haqqani is a former Pakistani ambassador, who has worked under both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. At the moment, Haqqani seems to be a partisan of Benazir Bhutto. As with most arguments for abandoning Musharraf, Haqqani has little to say about the alternatives.

Benazir Bhutto talks a good anti-Islamist game, but she would have almost no ability to push the army in that direction. Bhutto had no power over the army when she was in power before, and would have even less now, given her certain efforts to replace retired officers with her own supporters at the head of Pakistan’s economic institutions. Despite – really because of – Bhutto’s being a Western educated woman, she never took on the country’s Islamists. Bhutto was under suspicion from the start, and had to prove that a female secularist would not freeze out the country’s traditionalists. Musharraf was actually far better placed to pare back Islamist power, and made efforts in that direction even before 9/11.  And as I note in my post on Daniel Markey’s piece, abandoning Musharraf is even more likely to hand power to Islamist-leaning Nawaz Sharif than to Bhutto.

The biggest problem with Haqqani’s piece is what he bills as his main point. According to Haqqani, the U.S. is the key to the vicious circle that prevents Pakistan from becoming a “normal” democratic country. It’s true, Haqqani concedes, that the military is the most important institution in the country–the only institution that really works. That’s why America supports and works through Pakistan’s army. But Haqqani claims that the army only remains the paramount institution in Pakistan because of American backing. If only we’d abandon our support for it, Pakistan would have a chance to become a true democracy.

This is nonsense. America has been more than happy to support democratic governments throughout the world. The pre-eminence of the army in Pakistan is an indigenous Pakistani phenomenon, going back to the earliest years of the state. When Islamist rioted in favor of tough blasphemy laws in 1953, civilian leaders were paralyzed. The army not only put down the violence, it stepped in to govern successfully in a number of areas where civilians had been unable to act.

Thus began a long-term evolution toward military rule in Pakistan. Meanwhile, in post-partition India, which had been joined with what later become Pakistan under British rule, political evolution went in a very different direction. British-inflected democracy took root in India, but not in Pakistan. Internal social and cultural differences have vastly more to do with this divergence than American military aid. Haqqani is playing on American ignorance about Pakistan’s past, and our tendency to blame ourselves for all facets of political development in foreign countries, to undercut his political rivals at home.