[Previous] [Main Index] [Next]

Friday, March 5, 2004

Pakistan under Musharraf: One of the Two or Three Most Important Countries for the US

The following article is prompted by a very good survey of Pakistani developments in the period since 9/11 under President Musharraf --- who came to power in a military coup in the late 1990s, just about when Pakistan tested its first nuclear bomb, and who since then has reoriented his country's policies in ways that are generally commendable, especially in foreign policy. The article appeared in today's Los Angeles Times (March 5, 2004).

That the journalist isn't trained in foreign policy analysis or IR theory isn't surprising: hence the need for some contextual background and analytical commentary here. Read it, and by the end you should have a much better appreciation of Pakistan's pivotal importance to the US in the war on terrorism . . . as well as what Musharraf has accomplished in 30 months even if, in domestic politics --- full of ethnic and religious conflicts, with the clash of civilizations graphically being played out between regressive, racist fundamentalist and kill-crazy terrorist forces on one side and modernizers and liberals on the other --- his record has been more checkered. No doubt, to be frank, inevitably so . . . and for reasons set out later.



Something else you should come away with from the article: a much better sense of the inescapable trade-offs in American foreign policy between security, economic, and human rights concerns.

Only ideologues think all good things go together, whether at home of abroad. That's not the way a complex world works. Far from it, there are always trade-offs in pursuing policies to deal with problems or challenges --- some very acute and a source of agonizing; at most, we can hope that the tensions between them are eased at times. Then, too, the fact that Presidents or Prime Ministers in democratic countries also have to be attentive to a host of domestic concerns --- voters, public opinion, legislatures, the media, and pressure groups --- reinforces the problems of trade-offs, adding further complications and at times outright dilemmas. Winston Churchill was right here. Democracy is a bad form of government for carrying out effective policies, except that all other political systems tried so far are worse. Come to that, what else would explain that the two most successful and influential countries in the last two centuries since the industrial revolution --- and democratic and nationalist revolutions as well as the ideological backlashes --- have been democratic, Great Britain and the USA?

Nor is that all. Very frequently there are also . . .


Unintended Consequences To Consider

Very frequently, what we hope are solutions to existing problems and challenges --- some urgent in foreign policy, in the form of unexpected crises that surge up all at once --- turn out over time, years or decades, to create new problems and challenges as a direct consequence.

This happens all the time in foreign policy. Consider the record. We helped the monstrous mass-murdering Soviet regime defeat the even more monstrous genocidal Hitlerian system in WWII, out of self-interest in a total war against fascism, Nazism, and Japanese raging militarism; and after the war ended and the cold war took its place, it turned out that US support helped create a new massive challenge that took decades to defeat. In the 1970s, the Nixon and Carter administrations recognized Maoist China, another mass-murdering totalitarian regime, and developed an unofficial alliance with it aimed at the greater threat of the communist Soviet Union. President Carter even exempted that monstrous regime from his human rights campaign, again for security reasons. Similarly, in Afghanistan after the Soviet military intervention in the late 1970s, the CIA helped train anti-Soviet forces . . . including Islamist volunteers from around the world. Out of these volunteers and anti-Soviet local forces would emerge Al Qaeda and the monstrous Taliban regime. The record runs on. Enough has been said to make the point.

Will things work out better with Pakistan this time? Most likely, just as they are in post-Taliban Afghanistan, and --- we hope --- in post-Saddamite Iraq. One thing for sure, the ultimate tests to determine the results will take years before anyone can be certain. Only slightly less sure, so far things have worked out better in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Pakistani-Indian relations --- never mind each country's relationship with the US --- than almost anyone would have predicted the day after September 11th, 2001. Not that President Bush's political opponents here in the US --- never mind those abroad --- want to hear such news. As they see it, American policies since January 22nd, 2001, have been a disaster.



Really, A Disaster?

If someone thinks that, he or she must have something else in mind other than the concrete record. Consider the important countries or organizations we need to have influence and work with, not least in the war on terrorism.

  • Relations with China have never been better --- ever.

  • And Russia? The renunciation of the ABM treaty, never mind the movement of NATO to Russia's borders --- both denounced by Bush's critics as disastrous --- haven't alienated Putin's regime, relations with which remain generally solidy as well, including a good working relationship between Bush and Putin himself (see this link, especially the very end). Both governments prefer to put the conflict over Iraq last year behind them.

  • Elsewhere, in the war on terrorism? The Taliban totalitarians have been swept from arrogant, women-whipping power; Al Qaeda has been routed there; Pakistan --- as we'll see --- is dealing with its extremist Islamist terrorism; its relations with nuclear-armed India are better than ever too; further afield, the monstrous Saddamite totalitarian regime has been destroyed, and a new constitution will soon be signed; Quadaffi's Libya has come clean on its WMD programs, as has clerical-fascist Iran.

  • As for all the loose misleading talk about unilateralism and strained relations with Europe still being voiced, in fact 6 West European countries were in the Coalition-of-the-Willing last year --- the UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, and Holland --- and all the new East European NATO members also vigorously supported the US-UK position. They still do.

  • More to the point, both the German and French governments are striving vigorously to improve relations with the US. Among other things, Paris and Washington are not only cooperating over Haiti, but have troops on the ground, both of them.

It gets more intriguing too. If you watch French TV regularly as I do, you will also have noticed a big change in its coverage of American politics and events. Instead of George Bush being demonized regularly, with vented grudges and resentments about stupid Americans in general, the deuxieme chaine --- broadcast to Santa Barbara by satellite --- has actually shown some professional detachment the last few weeks and gives relatively objective accounts. Once in a while, for reasons dictated to the deuxieme chaine's top management by the government (it's state-owned), you even get some warm and favorable comments about Americans, however gratuitous the context. Elsewhere, French delegates led by the Foreign Secretary, de Villepin, have come to Washington and met with Congressmen and others in order to improve the image of France in this country, badly soured since last years extended rows over Iraq. The French government has even employed a US PR-agency to try improving its reputation here.


Elsewhere Too

As for NATO, it has already developed a largely European-contributed Rapid Reaction Force and is moving to increase its size to over 20,000 for quick deployment anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, 21 of the 26 member-countries in the alliance this year already have forces on the ground in Iraq, not to forget Australia, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, and Brazil. And NATO's new General Secretary, a former Dutch diplomat, has indicated that once sovereignty has been passed to a new Iraqi transitional regime --- this summer, let us hope --- the alliance will likely come up with a fully unified policy of support for the democratic transitions there. Remember, that would be a big break with the past . . . no, not just the recent past of the last year. Hard to believe maybe, but NATO couldn't reach a common policy over either the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 or over Bosnia in the early and mid-1990s.

For that matter, both the Bush administration and the UN General Secretary are trying to work out ways to allow the UN to play a more effective role in Iraq's transformation than it was able to last year, when the General Secretary decided to pick up and run once the UN mission there was bombed. Yes, the UN took itself out of the country. It wasn't forced out by the Bush administration. And it was bombed successfully because the General Secretary turned down US offers to protect the mission last summer with US forces.


The Middle East

In the core areas of the Middle East --- except for Turkey and Israel and post-Saddam Iraq, full of 21 double-dealing dictatorial regimes and clerical-fascist Iran --- the Bush administration has firmly committed itself to pushing for liberalizing modernization and democratic reforms. For the first time in decades, ever since the US, West Europe, and Japan along with two or three other democracies became dependent on oil deliveries from the dictators, we have served notice that the days of tolerating their hate-machine media, their repression, their demagogy, and their constant disgorging of disgusting racism, anti-Semitism, attacks on women's rights --- not to forget the calculated cultivation of the paranoid style of scapegoating others, foreign devils, to excuse their blatant home-grown failures --- are over, headed for gutter-trash status in Middle East history.

No need to elaborate here. We've been over this ground in several recent buggy articles, with one more to come --- resuming an earlier mini-series on the new US initiative to push for liberalizing changes in the Middle East --- on what we know about democratic nation-building and the risks associated with it. Who knows? Even the more ultra-cautious European allies who fear major changes in the status quo --- almost anywhere, at home or abroad: damage-limitation the prevalent style for most EU countries --- might become less fearful of the changes being initiated by the Bush administration, starting in post-Taliban Afghanistan and post-Saddamite Iraq.



1) The Country's Significance

Pakistan, with the second largest Muslim population in the world --- 151 million people compared with Indonesia's 220 million) --- is also one of the four or five most important countries for the US right now: along with post-Saddam Iraq, post-Taliban Afghanistan, China, Russia, and the UK. If anything, it might rank at the top of priorities right behind Iraq, and its transforming prospects.

Under President Musharraf --- who came to power in a military coup in the late 1990s, but since then has held elections for himself and for parliament --- there has been a revolutionary change in its foreign and security policies in ways that we can applaud. In particular, the president has

  • purged the military and powerful intelligence services of fundamentalist extremism (not totally successful, it appears),

  • stopped the support of the Taliban

  • sent his security forces (no doubt with US aid) to attack the remnants and Al Qaeda along the Afghan-Pakistani border in the north,

  • and --- under US prodding --- has moved quickly to improve relations with India . . . another key country for the US, democratic and booming with development. In particular, close to war over Kashmir and the Islamist terrorist networks there, both Musharraf and the Indian government have had several high-level exchanges and seem bent on finding ways to defuse the conflict and maybe settle it once and for all.

No less important, Musharraf came clean on Pakistan's huge role in transferring nuclear technology to Iran --- working out a deal, about the best he could do in a turbulent country where Islamist forces of all sort (including terrorism) are actively at work, with the physicist who is a national hero to take the blame without any jail sentence. All of these changes have to be applauded and underscored. Without them, the war on terrorism would be far more dicey and full of greater risks for us and others.


2) Pakistan's politics also pose and underscore the problems of trade-offs in
US foreign policy.

There have been elections in Pakistan, and Musharraf has consolidated his hold on power. So far, there seems to be little improvement in the institutional development of a democracy there, but then the parliamentary elections in 2002 brought several Islamist parties to power, grouped in a party-coalition, called MMA. The Prime Minister and Cabinet depend on other support in Parliament, with its more than dozen parties. Relations between the PM and Musharraf have worsened lately as he's worked out some understandings with the MMA . . . partly , it appears, for tactical reasons not to seem outrightly anti-Islamist, partly to consolidate his presidency, partly . . . well, it's not clear. Pakistan's president continues to operate with a lot of secret maneuvering behind the scene.

Otherwise, in general terms, the army and the intelligence and other security services, remain the most important institutions.

That, by the way, is the usual case in Muslim countries all over the Middle East (save in Iraq now) and Iran, though not in secular Turkey or Bangladesh or Malaysia (with a very large Chinese minority of around 30% and another 5-10% Indian population). In Indonesia, democratic openings --- an election scheduled for later this year --- compete with the roles of the military and anti-terrorist intelligence and security agencies for power. In more general terms, Pakistan's internal situation --- a big fragmentation essentially into four ethnic regions, ethnic and religious conflicts, modernizers vs. Islamists, and active terrorist groups --- remains fragile and uncertain.


3) Back to the tradeoff in US policies.

The promotion of democratic government can't be at the top of the US policy agenda in any general sense, otherwise we'd be pursuing a futile, quixotic, and dangerous global crusade. Security concerns have to be considered the usual priority, along at times with economic interests, but democratic and human rights objectives for a particular country or region --- especially when they look like complementing US security, influence, and other national interests in the long-run --- can obviously rise in importance on the agenda, all depending. In Pakistan, Musharraf is the best existing ally we can find. The improved policies of Pakistan since 9/11 --- toward Afghanistan, where a new consensual government is still fighting terrorism and tribal war-lordism; toward India and Kashmir; on nuclear proliferation; and in the general war on terrorism --- are of prime importance right now.

If, of course, Musharraf can find ways to stabilize Pakistan's internal turbulence and simultaneously transfer power in several years in a more legitimate, transparent way that indicates clear institutional improvements in its nascent democratic transitional system, all the better.


4) Economically, Pakistan remains something of a basket-case

This problem isn't confined to Pakistan. It exists all over the Islamic world, dozens of countries, except for

  • Malaysia, about 23 million people in all, with a per capita income of around $8800 . . . thanks in large part to a big Chinese minority --- around 25-30% of the population --- plus another 5-10% Indian minority.

  • And Turkey . . . with 70 million people and a $7300 per capita income, plus a growing modern private sector despite massive statism.

Not surpirisingly, both countries are secular, and both are transitional democracies with some promise for improved democratic institutional development in the future.

Otherwise, in the whole Middle East and North Africa, essentially tiny Tunisia --- about 9-10 million people, with a large middle class and some manufacturing industry with prospects (per capita income about $6800) --- is the only Arab country with an economic base that looks promising and doesn't depend on rentier-based income or oil-revenue. Not surprisingly, literacy there is also the highest in the Arab world: around 75%. Egypt, about 75 million --- the largest Arab country --- has a per capita income of $4000, but its economic reforms fizzled out five or six years ago; and it depends a lot on tourism and some textile-exports and now a new gas-exporting industry. Its literacy levels are around 58%.