Military rule will not quell Pakistan's islamists
Military rule will not quell Pakistan's islamists
Pakistan’s Mass Deportation of Afghans Poses Risks to Regional Stability
Pakistan’s Mass Deportation of Afghans Poses Risks to Regional Stability
Op-Ed / Asia 3 minutes

Military rule will not quell Pakistan's islamists

However the tempestuous politics of Pakistan play out, one thing is certain. General Pervez Musharraf can no longer claim any legitimacy to lead his country. His approval rating is just over 20 per cent, most Pakistanis do not want him to be president again and the Supreme Court was expected to declare his candidacy illegal before he threw the judges out. He may be able to rig elections due in the new year but he and his regime will fail to win popular support.

That is a problem for Pakistan’s security. As the past eight years have shown, Gen Musharraf will not dismantle jihadi infrastructure nor will he allow moderate political parties to push back against Islamists in the political arena. The military has backed the religious right for decades; those Gen Musharraf really fears are the moderates he has locked up since imposing martial law on November 3.

While claiming to fight extremism, the military was using its forces in Baluchistan to try to deny the anti-Taliban, secular Baluch their constitutional rights. A record of failure along the border with Afghanistan in countering the Taliban has undercut support for the military nationwide. In a telling sign, most soldiers do not wear uniforms outside barracks.

Gen Musharraf’s supporters abroad defend him by raising the spectre of something worse but their apocalyptic scenarios of al-Qaeda obtaining nuclear weapons or the country melting down are extremely unlikely, and dangerous in themselves. Focusing on what has little chance of happening has blocked serious thought about what comes after the general. What is needed is a plan for Pakistan after Gen Musharraf.

First, democracy is not only more acceptable in principle than military rule, but would reduce the influence of Islamists significantly. In any free elections, moderate secular parties would win about 70 per cent of the vote. Small nationalist parties might get another 20 per cent but the Islamist parties would win less than 10 per cent. Even when the military rigged the 2002 poll in their favour the Islamists only won 11.3 per cent, and they would have less support today because of their mismanagement in Baluchistan and North-West Frontier Province.

Second, democracy would help in reducing violent extremism. Secular parties have been excluded from the tribal areas, which have been increasingly overrun by jihadis. Bringing these areas into the full political system would allow the parties to compete with the Islamists. This is the only way to recover ground in places, such as the Swat valley, where secular parties dominated before the military stifled them. Democratic parties have a better record of co-operating on counter-terrorism than the military; it was after all Gen Musharraf who throttled a joint US-Pakistan effort to hunt down Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s. Democratic rulers are also more likely to improve ties with India than the military, which launched wars and Islamist proxies against Pakistan’s neighbour.

Third, democratic parties may have been corrupt but they were far less greedy than the military. Ayesha Siddiqa’s book, Military Inc, details the way Gen Musharraf’s armed forces have become an omnivorous, unfettered force that is stifling business. The upper ranks of Pakistani state-run enterprises are stuffed with unqualified military officers, while the able look for jobs overseas. The way to tackle corruption is accountability, transparency and effective rule of law; the military, which regards itself as above all scrutiny, will never deliver these.

Any effective democracy will need to be backed with western aid and market access. Over the past 60 years, the US has overfed the military and starved democratic governments, giving them less than half the aid on average. Since 2001, only 10 per cent of the more than $10bn in aid has gone to development or humanitarian help. Far more must go to education, healthcare and building institutions.

Military help should not end but US aid could be more effective. More than high-technology weapons, Pakistan needs better policing and counter-insurgency forces trained to do more than fight Indian tanks on the Punjabi plains. There is no purely military solution to the Islamist insurgency or to nationalist violence in Baluchistan. We need political solutions to conflicts and improved long-term security.

None of this will be easy to implement but it offers more hope than more of the same. Pakistan needs change. It can only begin when Gen Musharraf goes and democracy returns.

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