Should we be paying more attention to Pakistan?
While all attention has been Iraq and the administrations preoccupation with Iran and Syria, are there potentially more important events unfolding in Pakistan. Bush sees Pakistan as an ally in the War on Terror and an important member of the Islamic world. Link. The Bush administration has recently proposed selling Pakistan F16's angering India even though Pakistan has been responsible for the dispersal of nuclear technology all over the world. New Yorker. Pakistan has also refused to let the US interview Khan who was responsible for the nuclear program in Pakistan. It has reported that Khan had communicated with people close to Osma bin Laden and provided them information concerning nuclear weapons Link. But despite all this, Bush has clearly backed the military rule of Musharraf. In fact the US has always dealt with the military governments in Pakistan when it suited their geopolitical interests. Since gaining its independence from Britain there have been three long periods of military rule in Pakistan.
The first military government signed several pacts with Washington to work jointly against the former Soviet Union. The second cooperated with Washington in ousting Soviet occupiers from neighboring Afghanistan, and the present government is again a key U.S. ally in the war against terror. Link
But at the same time the State Department was sharply critical of Pakistan in its recent report "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The US Record 2004-2005".
Parts of the report are blunt. They state that the Pakistani military remains heavily engaged in politics, the government's human-rights record remains poor, and political parties are generally weak, with undemocratic institutions centered on personalities instead of policies. The judiciary also came in for criticism as being "corrupt, inefficient and malleable to political pressure". It also said "politically motivated prosecutions of opposition figures continue, as do concerns that opposition leaders or their parties are not always allowed to function freely ... Security forces have committed numerous human-rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and torture. Societal discrimination and violence against women and religious minorities persist."Asia Times
Such criticism is consistent with this administrations view that it's the lack of freedom and democracy that encourages terrorism in Muslim nations.
Pakistan is also home to many terrorist organizations. An article in the Globalist details that not only are al Qaeda leaders probably hiding in the western territories but there are at least 22 major terrorist groups in Pakistan of which only 3 are listed on the U.S. State Department's List of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
So what is the state of Pakistan today? Certainly there are good signs such as better relations with India. A recent article in Asia Times suggest that there is much bubbling below the surface. There may be economic difficulties and there are deep problems on the political front. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of six religious-political parties that heads the opposition in the country,
Recently organized a “million March” in Karachi and forced the government to include the person’s religion on their passport.
After Karachi, other "Million Marches" in Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore shattered the opposition's political lull. A series of countrywide strikes has already begun, with the climax being a call for a general strike this Wednesday.
The MMA's president, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, has already vowed that after the April 2 strike, the MMA will march on the capital Islamabad and lay siege to it.
The MNA’s recent activities represent a revival of their influence. It has been estimated that there are 50,000 people committed to jihadi movements in Pakistan. People fear that there could be real problems if they were to become aligned with a more influential MNA.
The MMA's agitation, with the huge crowds it can mobilize against Musharraf, is bolstered by every rise in prices, the deteriorating law-and-order situation across the country, and widespread opposition to military operations, especially in Balochistan against tribes people there.
During the past week there were strikes in Pakistan NASDAQ .The MNA is upset that Musharraf reneged on a deal to step down as army chief. He has also consolidated more power. The MNA has called for his resignation.
The Muttahida Majlise Amal (MMA) reiterated its resolve to get rid of “American stooge General Pervez Musharraf” and implement Islamic code of life in the country here Wednesday.Link
Is continued engagement of Musharraf the right way to go?
During a visit to Washington earlier this month, former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto said: "A long-term engagement requires closer ties with the political forces in the country rather than a military government. Ties with a military government are always artificial because they do not involve people. And such an approach does not encourage democracy." U.S. officials agree, but only in principle. When it comes to implementing their pro-democratic policies in Pakistan, officials like Kozak argue that "the security situation" requires their engagement with the military government as well. And there are few who would disagree with this assessment, given the current law and order situation in Pakistan and the failure of the political forces in offering a credible alternative to military rule. But critics of the Bush administration's Pakistan policy say that continued support to a military ruler would strengthen authoritarianism, not democracy. But Kozak argues that the administration's policy of encouraging a military dictator to restore democracy by working with him will work, at least in Pakistan. Pakistani politicians can only hope that he is right
It is very difficult to get an accurate estimation of the severity and urgency of these issues. Pakistan is not on the front pages. Should it be? At least on the surface it would seem that the overthrow of Musharraf and his replacement by an Islamic government would not bode well for the US. You have a highly advanced well armed Islamic country who is opposed to the US.
But is this even a real possibility? Will the US's long standing tradition of basing its foreign policy on short term self-interest come back to haunt us?