Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Taking the Measure of Musharraf
First, the president was comfortable speaking quite frankly about where he thinks U.S. policy is going wrong, not only with regards to Pakistan but to the larger Islamic world. He noted that recent developments in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon have had a tremendous negative impact on the perception of the U.S. among Pakistanis. He also felt that not distinguishing between Taliban and conservative religious elements in the population in both Afghanistan (and by extension, the tribal areas in Pakistan) and not having a much more nuanced and focused strategy was going to boomerang.
Second, a number of his comments reminded me of positions that president Vladimir Putin took during a meeting I had with him in 2004 (and that have been reiterated to the 3rd Valdai discussion group, as noted recently by Paul Saunders--including speaking very directly about national interests and about the importance of building long-term institutions (rather than focusing on short term markers) to ensure the success of democracy--as well as a definition of democracy that focuses less on whether the West is happy with the attainment of benchmarks and more whether a government effectively defends popular interests. I was also struck, at several points, by a phenomenon that Dov Zakheim described in the Fall 2005 issue of The National Interest--that Musharraf views his position, and to some extent his insulation from popular pressures, as giving him the opportunity to "till the soil" to promote a moderate version of Islam compatible with democracy and the market. Certainly the delegation that accompanied him--including the minister for women's issues--reinforced that impression with me, as well as the sense that there is a concerted effort to bring new cadres into government, to displace some of the old political guard.
[For a view on some of the problems Pakistan faces, I direct you to what my colleague Alexis Debat has reported on from his recent trip.]
Perhaps a bit optimistic in your assessments. And after reading your National Interest piece I have reservations about Pakistan's ability to put its strategy into practice.
And one critical difference with Putin is that Putin has run for elections himself, even if they weren't particularly fair ones.
"Tilling the soil" appears to have become a peace deal with the Taliban and by extension, al-Qaeda. It is really only the admission that the tribal lands are beyond the control of the central government. This lack of control has provided our enemies with a safe haven from which to continue operations in Afghanistan and against the US.
The US is one coup away from the Islamic bomb, in a land where the coup is a way of life.
We have bungled this badly. It's time to stop pretending otherwise.
Musharraf's attempts to compromise with India and with.. whoever (Al-Quiada?) are based on the idea that violent conflict in Pakistan prevents any chance at development. He may be right. But he needs massive help in that development, and he's not getting it.