Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Musharraf Factor

In today's Christian Science Monitor, Brahma Chellenay, professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, argues that the fight against Islamic terrorism can't be won without first restoring democracy to Pakistan.

"The fight against international terrorism cannot be won without demilitarizing and deradicalizing Pakistan. That's what makes Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's latest move so worrisome.

"Now, without drawing international attention, Musharraf has unveiled a plan that will make Pakistan's greatly awaited elections a farce. Under this plan, the outgoing parliament and four provincial legislatures would "elect" him to a new five-year term as president in the fall, before he oversees national polls a few months later. Five years ago, Musharraf orchestrated another charade – a referendum – to extend his self-declared presidency.

"Musharraf's maneuver is the latest in a long series of broken promises to return his country to democracy. And it does not bode well for Pakistan's central challenge: moving away from militarism, extremism, and fundamentalism, and toward a stable, moderate state.

"Musharraf's sinking popularity has spurred speculation that he might declare a state of emergency to smother vocal opposition. But the more power he usurps, the more dependent he becomes on his military and intelligence. That limits his ability to sever their cozy ties with extremist and terrorist elements.

"A dictatorship that is part of the problem has ingeniously presented itself to the outside world as part of the solution. The scourge of Pakistani terrorism ema- nates not so much from the Islamist mullahs as from generals who reared the forces of jihad and fathered the Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked groups such as the Lashkar-i-Tayyaba. Yet by passing the blame for their disastrous jihad policy to their mullah puppets, Musharraf and his fellow generals have made many outsiders believe that the key is to contain the religious fringe, not the puppeteers.

"Musharraf perpetuates the self-serving myth that his rule helps prevent an Islamist takeover. But military rule would persist in the event of his sudden death.

"Until the military's viselike grip on power is broken and the rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency is cut to size, Pakistan is likely to remain a common thread in the investigations of most acts of international terrorism.

"In the absence of open elections, military rule has created a pressure-cooker society. What Pakistan needs is a safety valve – true democratic participation that would empower the masses and decide issues at the ballot box.

"Jihad culture is now deeply woven into Pakistan's national fabric. Unraveling it won't be easy. But it is essential. Heavy-handed rule from Musharraf – or any other general – won't eliminate Pakistan's extremist elements. The development of a robust civil society – though painful in the short term – will aid democracy, marginalize radicals, and bring Pakistan back from the brink.

"Some may think that Musharraf's scheme to stay enthroned is a necessary evil in the service of a greater good. That's half right: It is evil, but it's not necessary. The West needs to exert pressure on him to show real courage – and to bring real reform – by holding himself accountable to voters and making coming elections an honest affair."

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