Topple Musharraf

As you’ve probably heard by now, Pervez Musharraf has declared martial law and suspended the Pakistani constitution, whatever the hell that means in a military dictatorship. Oh, wait, this is what the hell that means (via Josh Marshall):

The prime minister said that up to 500 people had been arrested so far in a round-up of judges, lawyers and political activists. Among the political activists arrested is Gen. Hameed Gull, the former head of the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, police officials told CNN.
Dubai-based GEO television showed live footage of Gull being apprehended as he attempted to meet some of the seven Supreme Court judges placed under house arrest Saturday after refusing to endorse the president’s decision to suspend the constitution.
“There have been 400 to 500 preventative arrests in the country,” Aziz told a news conference in Islamabad.
Media and police sources say 1,500 opposition figures from Pakistan’s military, judiciary and political sectors have been detained.
In the wake of Saturday’s declaration, the government also issued new rules forbidding newspapers and broadcasters from expressing opinions prejudicial to “the ideology of Pakistan or integrity of Pakistan”.

For what it’s worth, Condi Rice seems to be doing exactly what she should:

The United States will review its financial aid package to its key anti-terrorism ally Pakistan after President Gen. Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency there on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.
“Obviously the situation has changed and we have to review where we are,” Rice said, noting that it is a complicated matter because much of the aid goes to counterterrorism measures.
Earlier, Rice said Washington had not been consulted about Musharraf’s plan to declare the emergency measure, which suspends the constitution and widens his powers.
“I’m disappointed in his decision,” she said, noting that the last time she spoke to the Pakistani leader was on Tuesday.

We can, and should, start trying to destabilize the Musharraf regime through economic and diplomatic means. The notion that some Iranian-style theocracy would emerge if he’s toppled is hogwash; as Blake Hounshell argued in The American Prospect this past March, the chances of that are extremely low. Recent polling suggests that a Bhutto-Musharraf-Sharif race would result in a slim Bhutto victory, with Musharraf and Sharif tied for second. Bhutto may be corrupt, but she’s certainly more democratically inclined than Musharraf, and no less secular.
Moreover, if Bhutto or Sharif were to take power due to a US-assisted toppling of the military regime, they’d automatically be indebted to us, and thus inclined to repay the favor with help with finding al-Qaeda operatives. At the very least, they’d be less likely than Musharraf to object to Obama-style American search missions. Say what you will about the war on terror (and I’ve said a lot), but there are wanted fugitives who killed American citizens living in Pakistan, and it’s in America’s interest to have Pakistan be lead by someone who’ll help us find them.
We have a unique chance to render democratic the sixth most populous nation on Earth and enhance America’s security. I suggest we take it.

7 thoughts on “Topple Musharraf

  1. This could be one of the most rash positions that I’ve seen you take, Dylan. It violates some fundamental don’ts of foreign policy: Don’t sack your chosen friends, even if you no longer like them; don’t over-promise democracy; and don’t be eager to destabilize a nuclear regime. The first one was an American mistake in Vietnam — Kennedy and Johnson did not have the imagination to expect that Diem would not just be ousted, but also murdered. The second one was a flagrant error of the Iraq war. And the third would be a new mistake, hopefully one that the US will never make. The last thing that the world needs is loose nukes among Islamic fanatics, whether or not they can gain control of all of Pakistan.
    The hard truth is that Pakistan’s democracy has only ever existed by permission of its army. The army giveth, the army taketh away. The civilian government has never controlled the army; it has only been the other way around to varying degrees. In order to sack Musharraf, we would need to persuade the army to cut bait. But persuade is all that we can do, since the army has more than 50 nuclear warheads. If the army endorsed or acquiesced to Bhutto, that would be great, but we can’t make it happen. On top of the army’s formidable independence, the approval rating of the US among Pakistanis is down to the single digits.

  2. The first one was an American mistake in Vietnam — Kennedy and Johnson did not have the imagination to expect that Diem would not just be ousted, but also murdered.
    A better analogy would be Gulf War I. Hussein was our “chosen friend” throughout the ’80s; he misbehaved in a big way, and ceased to be our “chosen friend”. It didn’t turn out all that badly.
    The second one was a flagrant error of the Iraq war.
    I missed the part of my post where I endorsed invading.
    The last thing that the world needs is loose nukes among Islamic fanatics, whether or not they can gain control of all of Pakistan.
    You do understand that Musharraf massively destabilized their nuclear arsenal with his coup in 1999 and then again by looking the other way as AQ Khan spread their tech around the world? I have trouble believing Bhutto or Sharif would be worse than that.
    If the army endorsed or acquiesced to Bhutto, that would be great, but we can’t make it happen.
    From a The Australian story entitled “Army may not fall in behind Musharraf”:

    In an attempt to forestall General Musharraf as he made the declaration, Supreme Court judges issued a late-night order calling on officials to disobey the edict, specifically appealing to army corps commanders.
    Senior diplomats in Islamabad reported dismay within sections of the army, with speculation centred on the recently-appointed vice-chief of staff Ashfaq Kiyani, who is believed to favour a return to democracy.
    Lieutenant General Kiyani worked closely with Ms Bhutto when she was prime minister and they are said to have maintained good relations.
    “Our information is that at the very least there are misgivings in some high-ranking quarters about what Musharraf has done. But whether this will translate into action against him from within the army remains to be seen,” a diplomat said.
    “These are tense times. There has been no sign in the past eight years since Musharraf seized power of his support base within the army fracturing. But there are those within the army who are increasingly worried about the way they are being blamed for all the ills of the regime, and how this reflects on the army.”

    I don’t disagree that the military is tremendously important in Pakistani civil society. I do disagree that they’ll automatically fall in line behind Musharraf. There are already signs that they won’t.
    This could be one of the most rash positions that I’ve seen you take, Dylan.
    I have no problem with you calling it foolish, Greg. But it’s not “rash”. Please assume I’m arguing in good faith. No one knows how this will turn out, but it’s not like my views lack any foundation. There’s a lot to support them.

  3. A better analogy would be Gulf War I. Hussein was our “chosen friend” throughout the ’80s; he misbehaved in a big way, and ceased to be our “chosen friend”.
    But the reason that it worked out is that we had the restraint of not toppling him.
    I missed the part of my post where I endorsed invading.
    Whether or not we invade, it’s an arrogant error of the United States to promise that regime change will lead to democracy. That’s what they thought would happen in Cuba, at first.
    You do understand that Musharraf massively destabilized their nuclear arsenal with his coup in 1999 and then again by looking the other way as AQ Khan spread their tech around the world?
    Musharraf did not destabilize the Pakistani nuclear arsenal on either occassion. It has stayed in the hands of the same Pakistani generals the entire time. It is true that Khan proliferated nuclear technology, but that started before Musharraf seized power and it isn’t destabilization of Pakistan’s own weapons either.
    I do disagree that they’ll automatically fall in line behind Musharraf.
    I never said that they would. The point is that for both good and bad reasons, it’s their business, not ours. The title of this post is “Topple Musharraf”, phrased as advice for the US itself. Maybe the army or the public in Pakistan will topple Musharraf and maybe they won’t — to say the least, it doesn’t look like he deserves power. But they certainly won’t like it if they think that it’s an American scheme.
    But it’s not “rash”.
    According to the dictionary, rash means ill-considered; it does not mean in bad faith. Endorsing a coup against Musharraf certainly would be ill-considered.

  4. I never said that they would. The point is that for both good and bad reasons, it’s their business, not ours. The title of this post is “Topple Musharraf”, phrased as advice for the US itself. Maybe the army or the public in Pakistan will topple Musharraf and maybe they won’t — to say the least, it doesn’t look like he deserves power. But they certainly won’t like it if they think that it’s an American scheme.
    Maybe I was unclear, but I did not intend to suggest that this should be an American-only endeavor. My point was that there are forces, powerful forces, inside Pakistan trying to bring Musharraf down. For humanitarian and security reasons, it’s in America’s interest to see that happen (I don’t think we hesitated about supporting Gorbachev’s downfall in 1991 on account of nuclear security). We should be pulling economic and diplomatic aid from Musharraf so as to help said forces.

  5. I did not intend to suggest that this should be an American-only endeavor.
    Realistically it’s a Pakistan-only endeavor. It is in America’s interest to see Musharraf step down, but we will indeed be seeing with our eyes, not with our hands. We should realize when we are the audience and not the show, and certainly not leap onto stages where we aren’t invited. But of course I agree that we should support secular, civilian rule in Pakistan.
    I don’t think we hesitated about supporting Gorbachev’s downfall in 1991 on account of nuclear security.
    As a matter of fact, I did lose sleep over it. Gorbachev was first kidnapped by a cabal of reactionaries. Then when they were forced to let him go, the entire Soviet authority fell apart. At the time, it was not at all clear that the nuclear arsenal would stay intact, or that whoever came after Gorbachev would be an improvement. Fortunately the Army kept its integrity through this touch-and-go period. And while everyone celebrated the end of Soviet Communism, no one was happy when Gorbachev was kidnapped; it was just scary. Nor was Yeltsin really a better person than Gorbachev; the real improvement was that Communism was over. Even that was a very qualified improvement for a long time.

  6. Realistically it’s a Pakistan-only endeavor. It is in America’s interest to see Musharraf step down, but we will indeed be seeing with our eyes, not with our hands. We should realize when we are the audience and not the show, and certainly not leap onto stages where we aren’t invited. But of course I agree that we should support secular, civilian rule in Pakistan.
    That’s really all I was saying. The model here isn’t Noriega in Panama but Marcos in the Philippines. The People Power revolution wasn’t started by the US, but we supported and fostered it. That’s what we should do here.

  7. The model here isn’t Noriega in Panama but Marcos in the Philippines.
    Except that Pakistan is far more independent from the US than the Philippines is. It’s not just that we endorsed the People Power revolution in the Philippines; we also pulled the plug on Marcos. Especially back then, if we told the Philippine government to jump, then it had to jump. By contrast, if it were really us toppling Musharraf, the model would have to be a lot like Noriega, or maybe like Milosevic or Mossadegh in Iran. (A lot of M’s and N’s, hmm…)
    The most important point is that there has been far too much talk of toppling lately in Washington. They are drunk from toppling. The person of Musharraf is only part of the problem in Pakistan. Musharraf is the oily Mafia don of the Pakistan Army, and by extension the nation. The real problem is that the civilian government has always had trouble telling the army what to do. (An interesting case comparison, by the way, is the history of Japan in the 1920s and 1930s.)

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