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The Case for Standing by Musharraf

Lee Smith

Over the weekend, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency, arresting thousands of opposition figures, dismissing large numbers from the judiciary, and closing media outlets. While domestic and international critics accuse Musharraf of trying to consolidate his near absolute power, the Pakistani leader explains that he is trying to stanch the violence that has claimed more than 700 Pakistani lives since July, including more than 130 killed last month at a Karachi rally marking the homecoming of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Most observers believe that Islamists are responsible for the violencein other words, the people Washington pressured Musharraf to take on after 9/11. Since 2001, the administration has delivered almost $11 billion to help the Pakistanis fight al-Qaida and its allies. Nonetheless, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters Sunday that given Musharraf’s heavy hand, Washington may have to reconsider the aid package. “We just have to review the situation,” said Rice. “President Musharraf has said that he will take off his uniform. That would be an important step.” Remarkably, Rice is compromising Musharraf’s only sources of political legitimacyU.S. support and his status as a military man. Maybe she believes that the general should surrender his sidearm as well.

The Pakistani military, as is the case with most armed forces in the Muslim world, is the citadel of the country’s modernity, its most significant secular institution and protector not only of the modern nation state but the idea of the nation state itself. Still, that is a mighty thin green line standing between 1,300 years of Islamic military principles, many thousands of years more of tribal and ethnic rivalries, and a nuclear arsenal. We have no idea if the military has become as Islamicized as the rest of Pakistani society. If the level of Islamist infiltration in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency is any indication, there is reason to be very concerned. When Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., complains that we have a Musharraf policy rather than a Pakistan policy, he needs to come up with a better idea. Musharraf is fighting the bad guys in caves as well as the badder guys who are much closer to the presidential palace, and there is no guarantee that anyone else on the horizon is willing to tackle that job for Washington.

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