Red Harvest 3
The Red Mosque siege is over, with many dead and wounded. Bill Roggio followed the operation and is acutely aware that although the reported action is centered on Islamabad, the true breadth of the conflict between Musharraf and the Pakistan's Islamists is far larger.
The situation in the Northwest Frontier Province, a base of support for the Red Mosque, remains tense. Over “20,000 tribesmen, including hundreds of masked militants wielding assault rifles, protested in the frontier region of Bajaur, led by Maulana Faqir Mohammed, a wanted cleric suspected of ties to al-Qaida's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri,” the Associated Press reported. Faqir has sheltered Zawahiri in the past.
Although the battle for the Red Mosque is over, with miitant cleric Abdul Rasheed Ghazi dead, the real question is whether the larger War for Pakistan has only just begun. Indian blogger Sepia Mutiny quotes a succinct assessment from the Times Online:
Political analysts believe that a confrontation between the Government and Islamists is now unavoidable. “It is a defining moment for both the country and the nation in the battle against militancy and religious extremism,” said Shireen Mazari, the chairwoman of the Institute for Strategic Studies, based in Islamabad. “There is no going back.”
The crisis in Pakistan now has at least three dimensions. The first is military. Bill Roggio, much ahead of the war coverage fixated on Iraq, chronicled the rise of the Taliban in the Northwest Frontier provinces. It is a fact that parts of Pakistan are now partly or wholly controlled by radical Islamists and possibly al-Qaeda. But Musharraf's regime also faces a legal crisis of legitimacy. Frederic Grare of the Carnegie Foundation describes it:
The end of Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s era in Pakistan approaches. Since March 9, demonstrations have mounted to protest his dismissal of the independent chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. On May 12, protests resulted in carnage during which more than 40 people were killed, mostly from the opposition. The pro-Musharraf Muttahida Qwami Movement (MQM) was held responsible by the majority of the Pakistani press. The Pakistani army’s authority is now being challenged like never before. A taboo has been broken and Musharraf’s government has made mistake after mistake, exposing its true dictatorial nature and also its weakness.
In other words, Musharraf has lost support because he is a military dictator. Grare without the slightest sense of self-irony proceeds to recommend supporting Democracy in Pakistan, and essentially supporting a regime change -- to empower the democratic forces.
The restoration of democracy — the re-establishment of civilian power according to the 1973 Pakistani constitution — is ultimately the only reasonable policy option in the short, medium and long terms. This restoration does not mean the “elimination” of the Army, but simply its withdrawal from politics. The military could be given a role through the National Security Council but would no longer be the domineering entity.
To encourage Pakistanis to pursue such reforms, the U.S. (and others) must stop allowing multiple objectives to be traded against each other, and instead recognize that terrorism, Afghanistan, Kashmir and democratization are related. They all require an end of the Army and intelligence service’s domination of Pakistan’s policy-making.
The rich vein of irony present in these remarks I will leave the readers to mine. But the underlying point should be well taken. Many of America's allies -- who are now preferred by those who favor "stability" and "realism" in response to alarm at efforts to "bring Democracy to Iraq" and who see even Saddam Hussein in nostalgic terms -- these allies, are really authoritarian regimes. Musharraf's is simply one of those authoritarian regimes. Now we are told that such strongmen are unstable. Musharraf will soon be compared to the Shah. It will be called "madness" to support him. The same people who argued Iraq was "lost" because a Saddam was toppled will now argue that Pakistan is about to be lost because we won't help ease Musharraf out of power. Frederic Grare argues that a Pakistan without Musharraf will make a semi-soft landing under the aegis of some other more legitimate miltary strongman. That may well be true, but we have nothing but Grare's word for it. Iran was "lost" in weeks -- because we eased the Shah out of power -- though Carter did not think it would end that way. Realistically, once a power struggle erupts in Pakistan, it will take an Old Testament prophet to anticipate how it will finally play out. It's a dilemma, and I will pose no answer to it. However that may be, the crisis may now be upon us if the Red Mosque incident has provided the match to the powderkeg.
The third dimension to the Pakistani crisis is international. President Musharraf is not the only President under siege. The Democrat Congress, aided by dissident Republicans, threatens to unilaterally pull US troops out of Iraq, though the details are not yet clear. President Bush, battered by unpopular domestic and international policies, is in a weak position while the Democrats have yet to articulate a war policy except one of withdrawal. Washington is governed by a man who can hardly turn the wheel of state and men who will not touch it, content to pelt the captain with tomatoes and old shoes.
And hovering over everything is one background factor. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state. Its fall to Islamists or spiral downward into an indecisive chaos would, coupled with the three factors mentioned above, unleash a perfect storm. One can realistically imagine a situation where America is withdrawing from Iraq, Pakistan falling into chaos and war breaking out in Lebanon all at the same time while Washington politicians are preoccupied with crafting sound-bites for the 2008 elections. Of the three factors affecting the Pakistani crisis, the only one which can be addressed directly is to create a real consensus on fighting the War on Terror. To create a strong American strategic sense of what should be achieved and a real appreciation of the stakes involved. Otherwise a terrible crisis may break out upon the world with no strong hand in Washington to deal with it.