Sunday, November 04, 2007

Emergency Rule in Pakistan: Shades of Indira?

I realize that neither Pakistanis nor Indians may appreciate comparing General Pervez Musharraf with Indira Gandhi, but I can't help but note some of the parallels between Musharraf's decision and the one taken by Gandhi back in 1975. Both were facing Supreme Court decisions that could have affected their ability to remain in power; both were coping with an emboldened political opposition; both had their own in-house militants/terrorists (Naxalites in India; Al-Qaeda/Taliban in Pakistan); and both made the argument that law and order was needed to ensure a real transition to democracy at some undisclosed point in the future.

An interesting prediction, then: when Gandhi lifted the Emergency in 1977, she thought she was going to sweep parliamentary elections because there had been economic growth and stability; instead, the opposition managed to finally unite and swept the vote. So it may be that the impact of this emergency in Pakistan will be to finally get a fractious and divided opposition to work together. Again, however, the experience in India in the late 1970s showed that over time a religious conservative and a secular socialist coalition could not endure in government--again possible lessons for Pakistan.

All of this to suggest that what we are seeing unfolding in Pakistan is part and parcel of larger South Asian political difficulties.

Although, Nik, one major difference is that India retained many of the functioning institutions of a democracy even during the emergency so there was more of a soft landing. Between Yahya Khan, Zia and now Musharraf you have much more damage being done.
How loyal is the Army in Pakistan these days? How far will they go to defend Musharraf?

One more difference: Indira Gandhi was actually elected to power; Musharraf only elected himself. Indira Gandhi declared emergency in a functioning democracy. Musharraf imposed martial law in a dictatorship.

As a previous commenter pointed out, the political histories of the two countries are important when it comes to assessing how the emergency might end. In India Indira Gandhi was compelled to hold elections. In Pakistan, there's no such compulsion at work.
Thanks, Nitin--that is a very good point to keep in mind. Gandhi was an elected politician and as such had to work within a system framed by those expectations.
This is a worthy analogy, but I'm not as optimistic in the short run for Pakistan as I think I would have been for India at that time.

James Joyner compares the situation to that of the Shah of Iran in the 1970's. I think, in relation to our interests in the country and international relations with it, this is an excellent analogy.

That scenario ended quite badly. In my opinion, the odds of ending up in that endgame have risen and will continue to rise unless and until the US makes a drastic break with recent policy.

The lesson of Iran is that the day after the overthrow is far too late to acquire relationships with and leverage over the successors. I, for one, think there's no better option than to force the regime to change its behavior, with pressure no less than what we're applying to modern Iranians.

The current regime seems to have no chance whatsoever of arresting the country's decline.
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