Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pakistani Political Crisis Worsening

Washington's official insistence on viewing Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf as the only game in town has painted the U.S. into a bad corner now that the military strongman is losing his grip on power.

We had better hope that our covert relationships with the main opposition parties (and with the current crop of ambitious Army colonels -- just to be safe) turns out to provide us with the necessary influence to protect U.S. interests in the nation that possesses the Islamic nuke.

Longtime political allies are beginning to distance themselves from the 63-year-old Pakistani leader. And although top generals appear to be standing by him, even government ministers are silent in the face of withering criticism of his rule, or offering only tepid support.

"His position has become untenable, unsustainable," said author and analyst Ahmed Rashid.

"I don't see how he can hang on," said journalist Zahid Hussain.

Musharraf faces stark choices, analysts say. He could hunker down and try to ride out the crisis, or move to declare martial law. He could seek to strike a deal with opposition figures, who are likely to spurn him. Or he could step aside.

"It's a scenario that could play out over some time, or could play out quite quickly," said Teresita C. Schaffer, director for South Asia affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "My experience is that in Pakistan, when things are in decline, they don't go down a sloping ramp; it's a series of steep stair steps."

The United States is increasingly viewed as the main power propping up Musharraf in the face of calls that he resign as army chief, allow the creation of an interim government and call free and fair elections.

Some observers warn that the Bush administration's continuing support for Musharraf at this crucial juncture could threaten long-term U.S. interests in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state considered an indispensable ally in the fight against Islamic insurgents across the border in Afghanistan.

"There's a huge disappointment over the American position, a real sense that it is a shortsighted one," said Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "This didn't happen overnight. Every military government at some point loses its legitimacy."

For the time being, the general appears to still have the backing of his patrons in the Bush administration, with whom he cast his lot after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That relationship has been clouded, however, by allegations that Musharraf's intelligence services remain entangled with Islamic militants, including the Taliban.

"Are we pulling away from Musharraf? No," said a U.S. diplomat, who spoke on condition that she not be named. "Because that would be pulling away from the government of Pakistan…. We will not draw away from this relationship."

The conventional wisdom has always held that Musharraf is a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalists, and that without him, the country could slide into a chaos that extremist groups would exploit.

But opposition parties insist that free and fair elections could instead empower a moderate, Western-leaning regime. Islamist parties won only about 12% of the vote in the last elections, in 2002, and many believe they would draw less support now.

"There's this perception that if Musharraf goes, in come the Taliban," said Sherry Rehman, a lawmaker with the Pakistan People's Party, the political home of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, now living in exile. "That's really not the case."


Blogger DrewL said...

Let's not forget the fact that the U.S. continues to endow Musharraf with a billion dollars a year - on the record, at least - and nobody really seems to know how that tidy sum is being put to use. Don't think for a second that these funds aren't greasing some very helpful skids when Musharraf's continued leadership gets called into question. Money talks, as they say, and it's likely talking up a storm in some very interesting parts of Pakistan these days.

5/29/2007 10:24 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


Remember Musharraf's self-serving explanation of why he capitulated to U.S. demands to halt support of the Taliban immediately following 9/11?

He claimed that Asst. Secretary of State Armitage had visited him and issued a military threat against Pakistan. Musharraf claims that he had no choice but to go along with the U.S.

Armitage denies it. Much more likely it was the greasing of Musharraf's (and the Pakistani military's) palm that carried the day.

5/30/2007 6:02 AM  

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