Musharraf’s gamble cannot succeed

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The Article

Something I did not deal with in my Wednesday column—although several of my correspondents assumed I did—was whether I think General Pervez Musharraf can pull off his emergency powers play in Pakistan. It was a separate question from whether he should try, though not entirely separate. For while there are times when it is appropriate for the commander of an army to seize state power, and try to save his country from disintegration, he must first be sure he has a chance to succeed. Otherwise he is only adding to the mess.

The question of “whether this can work” has two logical parts. Does the aspiring generalissimo have his hands on enough levers to accomplish his ends? And, does he have the intestinal fortitude to use them?

Frankly, I was a little pessimistic to start, and have grown more so watching events unfold. I am inclined to think that, on balance, Musharraf does not have his hands on enough levers, and could not manipulate them effectively if he had. He has been called a fox, and the jury must stay out on that; he is certainly not a lion.

Pakistan’s army is the one large national institution that crosses all domestic ethnic lines. This has been so since Pakistan’s formation, and is true of other Third World countries that are prone to military dictatorship. The army within itself debates national issues, and considers itself the guardian of a constitution. When given worse alternatives, there are advantages to military rule—soldiers do not much care for micromanaging everyday civilian concerns. But also the disadvantage that no one much likes being ruled by soldiers.

Now, as should be evident to close readers of the news, Pakistan’s army is increasingly divided. If it were only divided on which of its generals was most fit to rule, this would not be a big problem. Musharraf could be tossed and replaced by someone whose voice was more likely to command obedience. But no, it is divided at core, by quite incompatible ideas on the future of Pakistan. A once scotch-drinking officer corps is now itself run through with Islamism. And the fault lines are being tested by events in the frontier districts, where “al Qaeda” (as they think of themselves) are regularly ambushing army patrols, and seizing numerous prisoners to exchange for ransom.

The first thing Musharraf did, on declaring emergency, was to cut a deal to free about 300 of his telegenically captive soldiers, in return for about 30 likely terrorists he had in custody. The next thing he did was put all the country’s “secular-liberal” lawyers and oppositionists under various forms of house arrest. The latter may have been necessary to prevent demonstrations developing that could overthrow his regime. The former was unforgivable, and played right into the hands of his opponents on both sides (secular and Islamist). It was a display of weakness.

Since, he has backtracked on all fronts. Under pressure, it appears, from President George W. Bush on the phone, and Benazir Bhutto’s messengers shouting in the lobby, he has not only promised to go ahead with elections early in the New Year, but made other small concessions that cast him as a putz.

He may think he has no alternative, and he may have none, given the size of the domestic opposition Ms. Bhutto is mounting against him. What he has already done—by declaring the emergency—has moreover tended to fuse that opposition together.

What Gen. Musharraf knows, and they can’t know by definition, is that this secular opposition does not appreciate the grave danger their country is in from the Islamists.

They can’t know it because, according to me, they are infected in their souls with the disease we call “liberalism” in the West.

It operates on the soul through the medium of narcissism, and the strutting and preening of the opposition leaders gives a plain indication that the disease is well advanced. If only one of them—preferably Ms. Bhutto—would say clearly that Musharraf is not the worst evil the country faces, and the Islamists are, we might have some hope for their recovery.

David Warren
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