Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pakistan: A Solution for the Long Run

Pakistan’s President, Pervez Musharraf, has always had a great knack for staying in power, having to cling to his rule from the beginning. For the first few years, he ruled as an outright dictator, staying afloat due to his command of the military and his periodic promises of democracy. When the moment came for “democracy” to ensue, Musharraf rigged both the Presidential and Parliamentary elections to effectively prolong his authority. Whenever pressure mounted from the United States to help in the “war on terror,” Musharraf’s army mounted modest operations in the Northwestern borderlands; whenever pressure mounted from the locals and Muslims, Musharraf eased back on such operations.

And, as international pressure mounted in the face of the latest wave of riots, Musharraf removed his uniform, becoming an official citizen. This is not as surprising as it may seem; Musharraf would not have made such a move if he knew it would spell the immediate end of his power. Doubtless he still has considerable influence over the army. Doubtless still more, though, his influence will never be as strong as it was. Indeed his generalship provided the base of his power, and so the loss of his uniform will most likely start the slow, yet sure passing of Musharraf’s authority.

As Musharraf fades away, a new authority will rise in Pakistan. Who or what replaces him, though, and under what circumstances they do, will be long in the making. Anyone with any power will likely be in the mix. Amidst this uncertainty, the United States could use its considerable influence over Pakistan to try to shape what becomes of post-Musharraf Pakistan. At best, the United States could help point Pakistan towards an era of relative lasting peace in Pakistan while also furthering vital U.S. interests in Pakistan. At worst, the window of opportunity will close for awhile, and Pakistan will, at best, continue to live on the edge of chaos, with the conflict against the jihadists and the fate of the nuclear arsenal hanging in the balance.

A balanced formula that would accomplish a majority of U.S. interests in Pakistan remains elusive, given all the variables in Pakistan that influence U.S interests. Stability, so crucial for a nuclear nation like Pakistan, has been hard to come by in Pakistan’s modern history, and its brief reigns have come at terrible prices, almost always in the form of military dictators or corrupt nominal democracies. Intra-Muslim splits and class divides have made ultimate stability especially elusive. Regardless of the security situation, no Pakistani government has ever exercised adequate authority over all regions. In particular, the determined Pashtuns of Waziristan have resisted outside control for centuries. Unluckily enough, for the last few years these proud and hospitable people have given refuge to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In their new home, these organizations have remade themselves into the potent threats that they were in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has been a nuclear proliferation nightmare ever since its creation. One of its operators, A.Q. Khan, ran a kind of nuclear black market, with nuclear technology originating from him turning up from Libya to North Korea. Pakistan itself could be the setting of nuclear disasters, given the instability in the country containing the warheads. The proximity of such dangerous groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban to such devastating weapons creates even more disaster potential should Pakistan descend into chaos.

The current policy directs a disproportionate share of focus towards stability, which has made it both ineffective and self-wounding. Since Musharraf has long been viewed as the only perceivable option for stability, the United States has supported him rather unilaterally, meeting virtually whatever concessions he offered, even as many of them came at the expense of other U.S. interests in Pakistan, so that a stable Pakistan could keep a tab on its nuclear arsenal. Ironically, what Musharraf brought to Pakistan was far from stability. It brought, at most, fragile lapses of violence, often punctuated by riots, most recently last month’s lawyer protests. Like his predecessors, Musharraf’s rule did not extend through all of Pakistan, including volatile Waziristan where the extremists are hiding out.

Now that Musharraf’s end looms, the United States should start to formulate a new policy. This policy should, among other things, demand more of the Pakistani authority than just stability. The United States cannot let other national security interests suffer because of the fear of chaos and its ramifications. The United States should have learned from the Cold War that propping up an unpopular leader only works up to a point. Granting these leaders such drastic diplomatic leverage as Musharraf enjoyed only wounds the United States for the sake of a stability that would likely not last. If the United States stops negotiating against itself, maybe then it would have enough leverage of its own to further more of its interests, such as gaining custody of A. Q. Khan.

Achieving each of these policy goals separately would require a sizeable amount of brain and manpower. On the other hand, a Pakistan that remains stable in the long-term would make furthering U.S. interests a great deal easier. The United States would do well to help encourage Pakistani leaders to create a framework that would maintain long-term stability. The power void caused by Musharraf’s decline provides the perfect opportunity for this.

Modern Pakistan has never been very successful under centralized rule, but historically the Indian subcontinent has done fairly well under decentralized rule. Indeed, the subcontinent reached the peak of its prosperity nearly 2000 years ago under the decentralized Gupta Empire. Perhaps a return to a decentralized framework would facilitate a similar stability and peace. In modern political terms, perhaps a federal framework would thrive. Powerful regional authorities could not only help to check the power of the central government, but could also help to ensure that the central government would not distort the democracy or deny the population of their rights. If activists truly feel their country can accomplish democracy, they should be more than willing to give a federal framework a shot. In addition, a more decentralized rule over the provinces would be appealing to the quasi-independent fringe provinces like Waziristan. Under a federal framework, they could retain their independence through the system rather than in spite of the system. They may be more likely to cooperate with U.S. demands for Al Qaeda and the Taliban if the possibility of such a plan were at stake. If such a plan succeeds in facilitating some sort of lasting stability, then perhaps the nuclear arsenal would be secure for awhile and Pakistan could become more prosperous.

Getting such a plan through power-consolidating figures and institutions, especially the army, would be challenging. However, soon Pakistan will not have a sole figure or institution with unquestioned power. Musharraf was once, but he has sealed his decline. A few people could potentially succeed him, but that would take several years, leaving Pakistan without an insurmountable authority figure. During this lapse, the United States, with its influences over various groups and its economic clout, could have an opportunity to encourage the formulation of this idea. The results may not be ideal, but considering what the reality is, it sure seems worth a try.

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