August 8, 2007


Odds in democracy's favor (GWYNNE DYER, 8/09/07, Japan Times)

Pakistan is certainly becoming unstable. The government has effectively lost control in the tribal belt along the frontier with Afghanistan, which is increasingly dominated by pro-Taliban militants. The weeklong siege of radical Islamists holed up in the Red Mosque in Islamabad, the capital, in mid-July culminated in the deaths of over a hundred militants and soldiers.

The military dictator who has ruled Pakistan since 1999, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is a living incarnation of the phrase "one-bullet regime": He has already survived four assassination attempts. More than 200 Pakistani soldiers and civilians have died in terrorist attacks since the Red Mosque incident, and the alarmists are predicting civil war and an Islamist takeover.

On the other hand, there is a thriving free press in Pakistan, including independent television stations that actually report the news. The economy has been growing fast in recent years, and at least a bit of the new prosperity is trickling down to the impoverished majority.

Musharraf is the fourth general to seize power in Pakistan's 60-year history, but the country always returns to civilian rule in the end. [...]

There is a good chance that this crisis could end in a restoration of civilian democracy in Pakistan: That is how all three previous bouts of military rule ended. The fanatics and the extremists dominate the sparsely populated areas along the Afghan frontier because the population there is identical to the Pashtun across the border who are the main base of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and they have been radicalized by 28 years of foreign occupation and civil war in that country. But the vast majority of Pakistanis live down in the flat, fertile lands along the rivers, and what they want is not martyrdom but peace, justice and prosperity.

They stand a better chance of getting those things if democracy returns, even if previous intervals of democracy in Pakistan have usually ended in massive corruption and paralysis as the political class fought over the spoils.

Combine democracy with cutting the tribal areas loose -- so that they can be treated as an external enemy, rather than an internal problem -- and you have the recipe for the sort of application of force that's required.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 8, 2007 7:06 PM
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