November 14, 2007

Bhutto: 'The Terror Of His Own Illegitimacy'

Benazir Bhutto attacks Pervez Musharraf in today's Washington Post as a man afraid to confront Islamists but all too eager to oppose democrats. The former Prime Minister calls Musharraf a dictator who had the opportunity to side with freedom and democracy, but instead remained consistent with his past actions and clung to power for his own personal reasons. If the West wants a fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Bhutto warns that they have backed the wrong horse:

Musharraf knows how to crack down against pro-democracy forces. He is, however, unwilling or unable to track down and arrest Osama bin Laden or contain the extremists. This is the reality of Pakistan in November 2007.

The only terror that Musharraf's regime seems able to confront is the terror of his own illegitimacy. This is the second time Musharraf has imposed martial law and the second time he has sacked judges since taking over the country in a coup in 1999. It was then that he first promised "to bring true democracy."

The election commission has promulgated election rolls judged illegitimate by Pakistan's Supreme Court and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. Some polling sites have been kept secret. Musharraf's political opposition is banned from campaigning or organizing and has been denied access to state-controlled media. We cannot meet, we cannot rally, and when we try to bring the people to the streets they are gassed, beaten and shot at with rubber bullets. This is not only a military dictatorship, it is a classic police state.

On top of a litany of assaults on the rule of law, the general has unilaterally amended the Army Act of 1952 to grant the army the power to try civilians in military courts. Courts-martial will operate by military rules in secret, and defendants are not allowed legal representation.

No attempt has been made to differentiate between average citizens and terrorism suspects associated with militant groups. Many believe that these laws were passed to intimidate pro-democracy forces, not to try terrorism suspects. This is the "democracy" that Musharraf envisages.

It's hard to argue with this description at the moment. Musharraf has reconfined Bhutto to house arrest rather than allow her to hold an assembly for her political party. The use of military courts to try people for their political activism renders Musharraf a military dictator and Pakistan a police state. Given the off-again, on-again nature of the fight that Musharraf has put up against the Taliban and AQ, it does seem that he's much more engaged in his battle to secure his personal power than in fighting radical Islamists.

However, Bhutto hasn't exactly made her opposition to Islamists very clear. She has openly suggested an alliance with them to overthrow Musharraf, and publicly stated that she would join with former Islamist PM Nawaz Sharif in order to end Musharraf's reign. While some of these conservative religious factions do not equate to the Taliban, some of them are certainly sympathetic to the radicals. Bhutto met with the leader of a coalition of these radicals to discuss potential political alliances. Bhutto appears to have transformed herself into an analog of Musharraf -- willing to fight a military dictator by aligning herself with murderous extremists.

Both Musharraf and Bhutto seem to be aiming for the same brass ring, and both want Western support to get it. Musharraf promises a war against the terrorists that he has yet to engage with any enthusiasm more than six years after 9/11, and Bhutto promises to deliver democracy with a coalition that includes the West's enemies. Sharif wants to return to Pakistan to overthrow Musharraf, and then Bhutto. And at the heart of all lies the nuclear weaponry that we cannot allow the radical Islamists to control.

All of the choices here are bad, but unfortunately, we cannot simply throw our hands in the air and walk away. Which choice best supports our national interest? It may be a situation in which we have to choose the least worst option -- and in this case, control of the nukes will have to be the first priority. That means Musharraf in the short term, but we have to press all sides to reach a settlement, and quickly.


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