Zahid Hussain’s “Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle with Militant Islam” makes for interesting reading these days. President Musharraf is the current dictator of Pakistan, and has delivered some success, and failed on other fronts (like nuclear proliferation) in the US ‘War Against Terror’. Both Hussain’s book and recent events indicate the precarious situation of Musharraf, the choices facing Pakistan, and the resulting consequences for the rest of the world.
Democracy and the rule of law have eluded Pakistan for most of its post-Independence existence. This has been quite evident for the past 2 months since Musharraf’s arbitrary suspension of the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. Here's a good article on the Judge vs. the General.
Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, has now been witness to the massacre of Chaudhry’s supporters who were protesting Musharraf’s unilateral action, apparently by members of the pro-government ethnic based MQM (Mutahida Qaumi Movement) party while Pakistan’s security forces stood by and watched.
Hussain feels that that the “war against militancy and Islamic extremism can be best fought – and won – in a liberal democracy”. Musharraf’s proximity to the US and its unpopular policies in the region has resulted in (or exacerbated) deep fissures in Pakistan society, including deep enmity towards Musharraf from the Islamists within Pakistan. In addition, his authoritarian rule may now have turned the moderate Muslims – the majority of Pakistanis which essentially gave him a mandate to govern after his bloodless coup in 1999 – against him as well.
Musharraf has been the target of more than one assassination attempt. Should the relatively pragmatic Musharraf fall, a more unpalatable option may present itself. Musharraf’s demise (notwithstanding the extreme security surrounding him) will result in either another army general stepping in, or worse. A coalition of conservative Islamic parties is disproportionately represented in Pakistan’s Parliament and Islamists have pushed for the adoption of sharia law, and made various other efforts to Talibanize the state. These efforts now include bomb threats against Pakistan’s tiny Christian minority in the almost lawless North West Frontier Province in an attempt to coerce them to convert to Islam. Pakistan may well descend into regional and ethnic chaos. Musharraf’s successor could be an Islamist, or a sympathizer. Such a result would be grim news to the current efforts towards reconciliation attempts between Pakistan and India over the disputed Kashmir territory.
Why should we care about the fate of Pakistan and its struggle towards democracy and the rule of law? Pakistan’s struggles with extremism have international repercussions. In this age of globalization, Pakistan’s faultlines of ethnic, political and religious strife will be Canada’s headache tomorrow. Pakistan is a major immigrant source country, and for many years was the number one source country for refugees to Canada. A significant number of those refugee claims involved individuals claiming to be persecuted as a result of their affiliation with the MQM party – considered by Citizenship & Immigration to be a “terrorist” organization.
One example of the repercussions of the extremism is Operation Crevice which involved the UK’s successful interdiction of a bomb plot involving a massive amount of fertilizer. Nine men of Pakistani heritage were arrested -- including Mohammed Momin Khawaja in Canada (who is also now linked to the July 7 public transit bombings that killed 53 people in London).
If Hussain is right, and liberal legal traditions and other institutions that Canadians take for granted are the necessary bulwark against extremism and fundamentalism in Pakistan then it is incumbent upon the United States and other nations to encourage the development of democracy in Pakistan. Realpolitik suggests that it’s in the US’ best interests to support the better-than-the-alternative Musharraf but also nudge Pakistan society into nascent democracy. The true test of this commitment will happen if (or when) conservative Islamic parties dominate Musharraf’s promised elections.