Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Spinning The Transition Of Power In Pakistan

By Cernig

When Eli Lake and Spencer Ackerman agree on something - on consecutive days, no less - you can be sure either that it is something uncontroversial and obvious (the sky is blue) or that someone has a full court press on spinning the media into accepting their preferred narrative.

What will happen in Pakistan as military dictator Musharaff becomes increasingly insecure in his power isn't at all uncontroversial. Yet yesterday Ackerman cited Pakistani and American informed sources who are keen to tell us that we don't have to worry, everything will be OK and that the Pakistani military has a plan for a smooth transition of power to a new dictator. Today, Lake builds on Ackerman's piece, obviously using much of Spencer's article for groundwork, but adds other sources who confirm Musharaff is toast by the end of the year. Significantly, Lake doesn't take issue with claims made in Spencer's piece that there are already two possible successors waiting in the military wings - "Ehsan Saleem Hayat, the army's vice chief of staff, and Ehsan ul-Haq, the chairman of the joint chiefs and a former head of Pakistan's powerful intelligence apparatus, known as the ISI."

Neither Ackerman nor Lake, though, take issue with the claim that the Pakistani military is somehow a stabilizing and secular influence which stands against an Islamist popular political wave. The parallel suggested is Turkey, where the military has always been the protector of secular democracy. That parallel is very far indeed from being proven. As I've noted on several occasions, NATO, Afghan and Indian intelligence reports all indicate that, in general, the Pakistani military has strong Islamist leanings and co-operates with Islamist political parties to maintain power. Worse, the Pakistani ISI intelligence agency has been accused by US allies on several occasions of sheltering, funding and directing the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other Islamist terror groups.

What neither Spencer Ackerman nor Eli Lake considers is the possibility that the best route to combatting Islamist currents in Pakistan is suport for the strong secular democracy movement. This despite Ackerman noting that not many analysts see the Islamists as being strong enough on their own to take power and quoting a source as saying that " "One common factor in places where Islamists rise to power is the economy tanking...in Pakistan investment is taking off. It doesn't have many of the factors that drive religious elements taking power."

Musharaff has no intention of stepping down unless he is forced to by his own military's withdrawal of support. Even then, I feel he is determined enough to hold power that he could reach out to Islamist politicians even more strongly to counter his military and preserve his power.

If he doesn't, though, supporting a quiet transition to a new military dictator is simply supporting more of the same game playing from Pakistan. Pakistan has successfully gotten the US to give it billions in military aid for the war on terror while simultaneously supporting terror groups that are a threat to America - only ever clamping down or arresting those terror leaders who got too big for their boots and decided to directly threaten Musharaff.

I can only imagine that American bi-partisan support for a transition to another dictator while ignoring a strong secular democratic option reflects either successful Pakistani military spinning or deep bi-partisan embarassment at being "had" by that spin for so long.

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