Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pakistan: Democracy Strikes Again!

Here, apparently, is the answer to my Musharraf question. Pervez Musharraf, "President" of Pakistan, who took power in a coup and has never faced a real election will be up for a vote in 2007. Musharraf is broadly unpopular, and appears to be throwing in his lot with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, a major Islamic party, in a bid to have a realistic shot at reelection. This is why he essentially signed a peace treaty with the Taliban (who JUI helped create). Likely it is also why he brought out the stone age story, to explain that his cooperation with the Americans was coerced. He doesn't have to worry about undercutting support for anti-Taliban action, because he has already bailed on it himself.

The truly surreal part of this story is the lack of reaction from the US. Pakistan announces a truce with the Taliban and says they won't bother Osama Bin Laden if he doesn't bother them (and according to the Telegraph one of the key negotiators for the truce was none other than the infamous Mullah Omar). What does the White House say? That Musharraf and Bush are "on the hunt together". Only slightly less surreal was having a meeting between two heads of state where one, when asked about a high profile diplomatic tiff between the two nations, responded to the questions by stating that his book deal prohibited him from answering. That has to be a first. On the topic of the truce Bush says that he looked into Musharraf's eyes (I am serious!) when Musharraf told him he didn't cave to the Taliban and was convinced. No comment on Mullah Omar or the general who said they weren't going after Bin Laden anymore.

This is all very interesting in the geopolitical sense (i.e. Musharraf has gotten away with murder these past five years, and nothing seems to touch him), but I think really comes back to another of the major contradictions of the Bush administration: they have put an immense focus on global democratization while at the same time disdaining efforts to win over foreign voters. Their approach to foreign policy is entirely limited to trying to browbeat foreign leaders (many of them unelected) into cooperation while steadfastly refusing to engage the concerns and complaints of common people throughout the Middle East and South Asia. That can work, to some extent, for a while. But if you succeed in democratization you will learn that those opinions matter a great deal. We saw Hamas elected in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Muqtada al-Sadr's party in Iraq, Amadinejad in Iran, and now we're seeing Musharraf cater to Islamists in Pakistan. If there were elections in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Middle East, I expect we'd see exactly the same results. We are pushing for democracy at the same time that we advance policies that could not be better designed to inflame opinion against us. I begin to wonder if these guys understand what democracy means...

I tend to support the idea of democratization simply because it will have the impact of forcing our hand in dealing with these issues. For now we can find pliant leaders and ignore the issues of the Islamic street. But I doubt there will be any serious progress in the war on terror until those issues are dealt with, and by having governments elected that will advance these issues more forcefully the US will have little choice but to address them. Funny, but I doubt that was what the neocons had in mind...

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