Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Regime Change In Pakistan

According to The Australian newspaper today, the Bush administration are finally thinking about helping to depose President Musharaff of Pakistan.

THE US has indicated for the first time that it might be willing to back plans by elite echelons of the military in Islamabad to oust Pervez Musharraf from power, as the Pakistani President was beset by major new difficulties over his attempts to sack the country's chief justice.

Reports yesterday quoting highly placed US diplomatic and intelligence officials - previously rusted on to the view that General Musharraf was an indispensable Western ally in the battle against terrorism - outlined a succession plan to replace him.
US officials told The New York Times the plan would see the Vice-Chief of the Army, Ahsan Saleem Hyat, take over from General Musharraf as head of the military and former banker Mohammedmian Soomro installed as president, with General Hyat wielding most of the power.

The report adds another dimension to the range of challenges bearing down on the embattled military ruler following his weekend sacking of chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, whom he appointed just over a year ago.
Which led several of my colleagues on the left side of Blogtopia (Yes, Skippy, YDKTP) to suggest that such a move would be afflicted by the administration's reverse Midas touch in regime change efforts and would doubtless lead to a new Islamist-run nation - this time armed with nukes.

But wait. Have a look at the New York Times article which is cited as a source for these claims that the US is contemplating changing generals in Pakistan. It says no such thing. What it says is that Musharaff has set out a line of sucession should something happen to him involving General Hyat and Mr. Soomro as head of the army and president, respectively. It mentions nothing about a Bush administration plan to enable that succession.

So is this simply a case of bad journalism and inefficient editing?

The Australian is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, and he is said to have more personal editorial involvement in it than in any other of the newspapers in his stable. There's always the chance it's a trial balloon being leaked by Murdoch's friends in the Cheney camp. It's been done before.

If so, they will be very pleased at the response from liberal bloggers who wrote about the story - they've swallowed whole the spin that Musharaff is all that stands between the world and an Islamist run and nuclear armed country. They therefore accept the wholely false premise that the Bush administration should help to prop-up the dictator as an "ally in the war on terror".

At that point, they then accept a necessary conclusion - that if Musharaff falls then a new military strongman should replace him. Their only worry is that the Bush administration not foul up such a transition. The framing is nicely in place and accepted even by those who should be least likely to. Liberals find themselves accepting and supporting the Bush narrative on Musharaff and his intended successors.

Yet there's plenty to question. I've posted before (more than a few times) about the nature of our so-called ally Musharaff and his assistance in the "war on terror". Musharaff, far from being a bulwark against Islamist groups actively courts them at home and relies upon them for the political support that keeps him in power. His intelligence agency, the ISI, is clearly the directing and funding entity behind the Taliban, and through them Al Qaeda. He not only shields and pardons the Khan network of nuclear proliferators but many analysts say that his knowledge and persission would have been essential to their operation. The Khan network, indeed, seems still to be operating and is under the wing of Pakistan's military. Musharaff isn't a solution to the problem, he is part and parcel of the problem. Replacing him with another general would simply allow the current situation to continue unchecked.

Then there's the idea that only a strongman dictator could be an effective bulwark for the West against Islamic extremists in Pakistan. I've linked the New York Times article above once already, in a post on Pakistan's catch-and-release policy for Islamist terror leaders it captures. Yet another area where the Bush administration's spin doesn't meet up with the real story. I also linked there to this op-ed by Pakistan's last democratically elected leader, Benazir Bhutto, who is now in exile in London. Bhutto writes:

For too long, the international perception has been that Musharraf's regime is the only thing standing between the West and nuclear-armed fundamentalists.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Islamic parties have never garnered more than 13 percent in any free parliamentary elections in Pakistan. The notion of Musharraf's regime as the only non-Islamist option is disingenuous and the worst type of fear-mongering.

Much has been said about Pakistan being a key Western ally in the war against terrorism. It is the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. aid -- the Bush administration proposed $785 million in its latest budget. Yet terrorism around the world has increased. Why is it that all terrorist plots -- from the Sept. 11 attacks, to Madrid, to London, to Mumbai -- seem to have roots in Islamabad?

Pakistan's military and intelligence services have, for decades, used religious parties for recruits. Political madrassas -- religious schools that preach terrorism by perverting the faith of Islam -- have spread by the tens of thousands.

The West has been shortsighted in dealing with Pakistan. When the United States aligns with dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, it compromises the basic democratic principles of its foundation -- namely, life, liberty and justice for all. Dictatorships such as Musharraf's suppress individual rights and freedoms and empower the most extreme elements of society. Oppressed citizens, unable to represent themselves through other means, often turn to extremism and religious fundamentalism.

Restoring democracy through free, fair, transparent and internationally supervised elections is the only way to return Pakistan to civilization and marginalize the extremists. A democratic Pakistan, free from the yoke of military dictatorship, would cease to be a breeding ground for international terrorism.
and the NY Times article backs her up:

While the Islamists would surely take power in any way possible, an examination of polling data and recent election results — however suspect in a less than democratic country — provides little evidence that Islamists have enough support to take over the country. If anything, they would likely control only select areas.

The last time Pakistan went to the polls in 2002, religious political parties received just 11 percent of the vote, compared with more than 28 percent won by the secular party led by Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister.

And that election may have even been a high-water mark for the Islamists, who were capitalizing on surging anti-American sentiment after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Even though the Iraq war has also inflamed anti-Western attitudes, these sentiments do not seem to have translated into electoral gains for Islamist parties.

Islamist politicians received a drubbing in local elections in 2005, gaining less support than expected in their power base in the tribal areas. In September, a poll by the International Republican Institute, a respected organization affiliated with the Republican Party that helps build democratic institutions in foreign countries, found that just 5.2 percent of respondents would vote for the main religious party, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, in national parliamentary elections.

Although the poll found that this party was the most popular in Baluchistan, the southwestern province where Taliban support is strong, Islamist leaders lagged far behind both Mr. Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto, as well as another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. It is also thought to be unlikely that a successful attempt on Mr. Musharraf’s life would mean wholesale changes to the power structure of Pakistani politics.

For decades, the military has been the most dominant institution in Pakistan. If Mr. Musharraf were to fall to an assassin’s bullet, American diplomatic and intelligence officials say, it is unlikely that there would be mass uprisings in Lahore and Karachi, or that a religious leader in the Taliban mold would rise to power.
Far from ushering in a Taliban-run Pakistan, Musharaff's fall and replacement by a democratically elected leader would actually be the worst thing that could happen for Islamist extremists. But the US should not be involved in that regime change - it should simply remove support for Musharaff's two-faced regime and make it clear no succeeding military regime will be supported either, then let the Pakistanis do the rest. The "revolt of the lawyers" should give us hope and be taken as evidence of a Pakistani wish for democracy. (You can get more on that "revolt" from the Pak Law blog.)

...So why the careful framing, that seems to have been so willingly accepted by my liberal colleagues? Always follow the money, isn't that the rule?

It probably has something to do with the fact that, over the next couple of years, if a dictator remains in power in Pakistan then Republican corporate sponsors Lockheed Martin will make $5.1 billion from the sale and refurbishment deals. Much of that money is being spent directly by the US Defense Dept. or is coming from the billions of US aid money already given to Pakistan. In other words, it's your tax dollars at work as the Bush administration use Pakistan as an intermediary to transfer some more money from your pocket into those of your corporate friends.

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