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Memo to Media: Supporting Musharraf is NOT Realism
From a Wednesday, November 7, 2007 entry on Informed Comment Global Affairs, a group blog run by Juan Cole, Manan Ahmed, Farideh Farhi, and Barnett R. Rubin
Now that I am out of Pakistan, I can watch international news again. (General Musharraf, author of the doctrine of "enlightened moderation," has shut down access to international cable channels, presumably because they undermine the fight against international terrorism.) I have been able to watch the same lawyer in Multan get arrested several times. I have seen Benazir Bhutto arrive in Islamabad, sticking her head out of an armored car in case anyone would like to make up for missing it in Karachi.
Watching the international media framing the events reminded me of a Bob Dylan song I was listening to on the plane:
If there's an original thought out there, I could use it right now.I see Bush talking about his "freedom agenda," Musharraf at the White House, arrested lawyers, turbaned Taliban taking over another town in northwest Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto asking the world to live up to its ideals, U.S. planes swooping over Afghanistan, Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein on behalf of President Reagan (that sure worked out real swell!), and, finally, Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, explaining that China can help us with North Korea, Saudi Arabia can help us against Iran, and that sometimes democracy promotion has to take a back seat to security concerns.
This is supposedly "realism," not just in the sense of being tough rather than idealistic, but in following the analytic and prescriptive precepts of the realist paradigm in international relations. According to this paradigm, the main actors in international relations are states, states act out of rational motives of self-preservation, these self-regarding interests result largely from international power relations, and the internal structure of states is largely both independent of their international behavior and impervious to international influence. Hence promoting democracy is a noble endeavor that has limited effect and sometimes has to be subordinated to urgent security interests. In the case of Pakistan, the realist frame states, "Even if General Musharraf is a dictator, we need his help in the war against terror."
I agree that promoting democracy (even if it were done sincerely and intelligently, which is not the usual practice) sometimes has less priority than other goals. In any case, democracy cannot function without internal security and the rule of law.
But don't the reporters notice that the very pictures they are showing contradict the realist frame? General Musharraf has not suspended the constitution to fight terrorism. He has not even continued to fight terrorism while suspending the constitution for other reasons. Of course the Pakistan Army is happy to pocket the $100 million a year it receives for giving the U.S. basing rights and otherwise supporting the effort in Afghanistan (while undermining it in other -- and cheaper -- ways). The Pakistan Army is not about to commit suicide by openly defying the whole international community and cutting off support for NATO operations in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile Musharraf sent his police to arrest lawyers, liberal politicians, and human rights activists, while doing virtually nothing against those Taliban in their scary turbans, who are taking over Swat:
The imposition of emergency in Pakistan has not put any pressure on Taliban in Swat district. Taliban have taken over police stations in Matta, Khawazkhela and Charbagh. This scribe visited the Matta police station after the imposition of emergency in Pakistan. Taliban there have replaced the Pakistan's flag with their own at the police station after more than 120 soldiers surrendered two days ago. Taliban commanders controlling Matta police station were not worried about the emergency.Why is this happening? Because an illegitimate military regime could not motivate the security forces it has trained for jihad in defense of Islamic Pakistan to fight against domestic jihadis, even if it really wanted to. Realism assumes that states are constituted once and for all and that their capacity is a function of their economies and order of battle, not their legitimacy. But that is wrong. In Afghanistan the Afghan National Army, on which the U.S. has spent billions of dollars, is being undermined by mullahs, who in some areas will not pray at the funerals of fallen ANA soldiers. Pakistani troops and police are surrendering rather than fight the militants at the behest of a dictator beholden to the U.S.
That does not mean, as stated in the usual blackmail note passed by Pakistani generals to American leaders, that only the Army stands between Islamabad's nuclear weapons and a mass Islamic revolutionary uprising. Support for a Taliban government is marginal in Pakistan. Even the mainstream Islamist parties like Jamaat-i Islami, who support the "resistance" in Afghanistan, are against it. But the military regime has not been able to provide an alternative legitimate leadership, and its own institutional interests prevent it from doing so.
The military and in particular its leader, General Musharraf, has a vital interest in staying in power. The generals believe their own rhetoric, that their personal and institutional interest is identical to the national interest, but few other Pakistanis do, and we should not either. The problem of how to handle the tribal agencies illustrates the dilemma.
For the past 30 years, initially using U.S. and Saudi covert action funds, the Pakistani military empowered jihadi groups in the tribal agencies. Along with the growth of a commercial economy based on smuggling, drug trafficking, and remittances, this support to militants undermined the tribal leadership through which the British colonial state and its successor, the Pakistani military state, controlled the border region. This closed area provided a deniable platform for the "covert" use of jihadis against the USSR, India, and Afghanistan.
When the U.S. demanded that the military join the "War on Terror," it responded by sending in the army and arresting some Arabs and Uzbeks, while leaving the Taliban able to operate in Afghanistan. When the U.S. finally demanded more action, Islamabad claimed that the local Pashtuns supported the Taliban and that therefore military action alone would not work. Instead they reached an agreement with government-controlled "tribal leaders" in South Waziristan to control militant activity. Some in the Pakistani government sincerely hoped this agreement would work. It did not. Trying to regain control of the tribal agencies by reviving the tribal leadership is like trying to reconstitute the Mediterranean out of bouillabaisse. (My apologies to Marseille.)
Pashtuns in the tribal agencies are constantly sending messages complaining of how the militants are terrorizing them, how they don't want to be used against Afghanistan, and how they are being blamed for the covert actions imposed on them by the Pakistani military. A few days ago, after I gave a lecture at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, two students from NWFP came up to me in a very agitated state, with the same protests, that Pakhtuns are not Taliban and that this "terrorism" had been imposed on them. These areas are ripe for political leadership that would oppose both the militants -- absorbing many of the youths they are recruiting -- and military rule. But creating conditions for such leadership to develop would require not sending in the military to bomb and shell the tribes, but legalizing political parties and social organizations (which are outlawed in the tribal agencies) and enabling the people of the tribal agencies to exercise self-government. Rather than give up its own power, the military balances the militants and the weakened tribes.
Only a transition toward more democratic civilian rule would create a constituency that would enable the Pakistani state not just to suppress militants by force but to offer a legitimate alternative to militancy. This the military regime will not and cannot do. Only a democratic transition, with its attendant uncertainties, offers a chance for Pakistan not so much to defeat militancy as to render it irrelevant. Genuine realism -- which includes an analysis of the role of legitimacy in state capacity -- requires support for the rule of law and transition to democracy.
I met the sons of darkness and the sons of lightAnd what were both the sons of darkness and the sons of light looking for in those bordertowns?
Wise man lookin' in a blade of grassIt shouldn't be that hard to understand.
From a Wednesday, November 7, 2007 entry on Informed Comment, Juan Cole's blog
Extremists Expand in Swat