Jay Reding.com

The Problem With Pakistan

Pajamas Media has an excellent roundup on the current state of martial law in Pakistan after President Pervez Musharraf arrested members of the Supreme Court and shut down parts of the Pakistani press. The “state of emergency,” now in its third day represents a potential crisis in the region that will have major implications for the war against al-Qaeda and America’s democratization policy.

The problem is this: while we don’t like military dictatorships, the alternative in Pakistan is not very good. Pervez Musharraf is hardly a poster boy for democracy, but he’s also responsible for combatting extremism in Pakistan and ensuring that tensions with India didn’t result in a nuclear exchange. The two things we definitely don’t want in Pakistan is a radical Islamist government who might use nukes or a radical secular nationalist government that might use nukes. Our primary interest is ensuring that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands. Pervez Musharraf, even though he’s acting like any other dictator, is at least someone who’s unlikely to spark World War III. The same cannot necessarily be said of others.

Depending on who you ask, this crisis began either when Pakistan’s Supreme Court was about to rule against Musharraf’s position as head of the army and President or when radical Islamists started causing trouble in Pakistan’s frontier regions. The former is most likely, but there’s no denying that terrorist activity in Pakistan is a major problem. Musharraf almost certainly is using terrorism as an excuse to clamp down on the Pakistani legal establishment. However, the question remains who would rule Pakistan is Musharraf were to be desposed?

The State Department is calling on Musharraf to restore civilian rule and step down as the head of the Pakistani Army. That’s a natural consequence of our pro-democracy position. The problem with that call is that the Pakistani Army is one of the few things holding the country together. It would be great if we could have a democratic Pakistan, but if there was a free and fair election it’s not at all certain that the beneficiaries wouldn’t be hardcore Islamists sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Again, our strategic outlook has to consider that Pakistan is a nuclear state, and anything that potentially puts nukes into terrorist hands is a very bad thing for the West.

What’s interesting to observe is India’s lack of strong reaction to the situation in Pakistan. India and Pakistan have had a long-standing dispute over Kashmir and a few years ago were close to nuclear war. However, under Musharraf tensions have slowly been reduced:

The two neighbors have fought three wars since Pakistan was carved out of India at the end of the era of British rule. Relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors have thawed recently and General Banerjee at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies says India is in no rush to see President Musharraf depart the stage in Pakistan.

“In recent years Musharraf was seen in India as somebody who was constructive on the critical issues between India and Pakistan and especially on Kashmir and therefore somebody that India could do business with,” added Banerjee.

The Indians realize that the alternatives to Musharraf are not good. While the US is publicly condemning Musharraf’s military coup, it’s quite likely that privately many members of the US government agree with India’s outlook. Our policy towards Pakistan has largely been one of slowly pushing Musharraf towards democracy, but not so hard as to threaten his ability to keep Pakistan from sliding into anarchy or war. Musharraf’s actions make that delicate balance much harder now.

Ultimately, we have to look out for our interests. Benazir Bhutto might be a compelling alternative to Musharraf, but without the support of the Army she’s likely to end up deposed yet again. Bhutto is saying the right things, but the charges of corruption weren’t far off the mark and the last thing Pakistan needs is a leader who’s at risk from either a military coup or an Islamist takeover. Bhutto has yet to demonstrate that she’s strong enough to lead Pakistan. Musharraf is not acting like someone with a commitment to democracy, but we have to realize that democratic development in Pakistan is a dangerous game. Push too much and we risk losing Musharraf as a key ally. If we lose Musharraf, there’s no telling what could happen. In a situation like this, it’s better to go with the devil you know than risk having a nuclear-armed terrorist state perched in a critical area of the world.

2 responses to “The Problem With Pakistan”

  1. northernexposure says:

    The Bush administration should not be so quick to condemn Musharraf for suspending the Pakistani constitution. Even though his actions lack the subtlety and finesse of, say, a Dick Cheney, Musharraf seems to have drawn his inspiration from the G. W. Bush presidency. By effectively declaring a “wartime exception” to the US Constitution, G. W. eliminated habeas corpus, authorized domestic spying, dismissed and harrassed federal judges, and has systematically used “signing statements” to declare that he will not enforce laws passed by both houses of Congress. And by the way, G. W. is predicting that his “war” will outlive most of us. That amounts to a permanent suspension of our constitution and a dangerous, unprecedented concentration of power in the Oval Office. So much for checks and balances. Regime change, anyone?

  2. Jay Reding says:

    The Bush administration should not be so quick to condemn Musharraf for suspending the Pakistani constitution. Even though his actions lack the subtlety and finesse of, say, a Dick Cheney, Musharraf seems to have drawn his inspiration from the G. W. Bush presidency.

    Yes, because we all remember that time when Bush had the Supreme Court arrested…

    By effectively declaring a “wartime exception” to the US Constitution,

    Or, more accurately, be exercising the powers which have always been granted to the Executive Branch in a time of war…

    G. W. eliminated habeas corpus

    No, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. President Bush has not — except in cases of foreign nationals caught outside the territorial jurisdiction of the US. And guess what, those people have never had habeas rights under US law.

    authorized domestic spying

    You mean like ECHELON? Oh wait, that was long before Bush was elected.

    Read the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment does not say that the government cannot search you, it says that such searches must be reasonable. The fact remains that the 9/11 hijackers were in the United States months before the attacks. You really want to argue that the government should not have been able to tap their phones?

    There’s a credible argument that the President should have followed FISA, but all that argument says is how one thinks the President should have conducted domestic surveillance, not saying that the President cannot use such measures.

    dismissed and harrassed federal judges

    Absolutely wrong.

    The President dismissed US Attorneys, who under the Constitution serve the President. The President has the power under the Constitution to hire and fire such individuals at will.

    You’re wrong on the facts. and wrong on a critically important fact.

    and has systematically used “signing statements” to declare that he will not enforce laws passed by both houses of Congress.

    OK, open your Constitution once again. Take a look at Article II, Section 1, clause 8. It’s the oath that the President takes before taking office. It says that the President has to defend the Constitution.

    So, if Congress passes a law that the President believes to be unconstitutional he can veto it. However, if the President signs a law that can be unconstitutional under certain circumstances, what can should he do? That’s what a signing statement is. It is the President saying that the Executive Branch will enforce a law in such a way as to comply with the Constitution.

    The Supreme Court can say, “no, the law must be enforced this way,” but the Supreme Court only has jurisdiction under Article III if there’s an actual “case or controversy” involved. Moreover, they can’t get involved unless there’s an actual case or controversy and someone’s actually been hurt (or as it’s called in Constitutional Law, the person suing has to have “standing”).

    So, the Executive can say how they will interpret a bill for Congress. That isn’t law, but policy, and the courts don’t have to recognize it at all. It’s not unconstitutional for the President to do this, and in fact a President who is following his/her oath and the Faithful Execution Clause has to make note of such things and try to follow Congress without doing something against the Constitution.

    And by the way, G. W. is predicting that his “war” will outlive most of us.

    Which it almost certainly will, just as the Cold War outlived Truman’s generation.

    That amounts to a permanent suspension of our constitution and a dangerous, unprecedented concentration of power in the Oval Office.

    A dangerous, unprecedented concentration of power that is neither dangerous, nor unprecedented, but a restoration of traditional powers that the Executive Branch had for most of this country’s history.

    So much for checks and balances. Regime change, anyone?

    And if you think that a President Hillary Clinton (*shudder*) would be any better, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you…