All hell — or at least most of it — has broken loose in Pakistan. Some say President Musharraf has over-stepped his bounds. Others say he has not even yet gone far enough. One thing that is clear is that the United States is not altogether sure what its position is, and that is not a good thing.
What is fact is that events are changing very fast in the Muslim nation. We know that President Musharraf wanted a court decision in favor of his recent re-election for President, which is in question because critics say he should have been disqualified from running because he is not just President but also head of the Pakistani army. Trying to obtain that decision, Musharraf effectively scrapped the Constitution and imposed martial law. Several judges protested. Fearing a negative vote, Musharraf removed Supreme Court Judge Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and several of his independent-minded associates in a purge and then began to pack the court with more friendly judges. According to Associated Press reports: “…under the emergency, so far, eight judges have taken a new oath. Previously there were 17 judges in the court.”
“In their first ruling, the eight "set aside" a ruling of seven other rebellious judges, including Chaudhry, who had rejected the emergency as unconstitutional.”
“The court is expected to resume hearings on Musharraf’s eligibility for another presidential term and issue a quick ruling in his favor.”
Opposition groups say about 3,500 people have been arrested since the emergency was put in place, while government officials put the number at around 2,500. Most detainees are lawyers, although opposition party supporters and rights activists have also been arrested. By yesterday afternoon, blood had already been shed when more than a dozen were killed in a bombing.
Critics see all of this as Musharaff’s last ditch effort to hold power. But Musharraf and his followersbelieve he must act to retain power in order to avoid a possible take-over of the country by extremist elements. They point to the recent suicide bombings aimed at newly-returned Benazir Bhutto and the need to quell the growing Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked militant threat. Just a couple of days ago, in the northwest, near the Afghan border, extremists seized the town of Matta from outnumbered security forces who surrendered without a fight.
This situation it takes on new meaning and importance for the mid-East region first, but also for United States and the entire globe, simply and totally because Pakistan is, after-all, a nuclear-armed nation.
The diplomatic trouble for America is simply that we find it more than just disagreeable for any government to resort to military action to retain control. We stand as a democracy where the people rule, not the military forces,. But we are also a nation at war with terrorists. In this we know that Pakistan is standing on the front line, because the terrorists have made the tribal territories of Pakistan their own capital.
So what we are doing? Well, we have called for Musharraf to give up his title as army chief and agree to hold parliamentary elections in January, and we are “reviewing aid to the Muslim nation,” but it appears highly unlikely that we would cut military assistance to our close ally in the war on terror. U.S. aid to Pakistan has totaled more than $10 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America and the fact is very clear that we need Musharraf to hold power much more than we need any kind of uncertainty as to who is the at the helm of the nuclear nation.
And it is also unlikely that any cutoff in aid would have any immediate effect.
It is unlikely that any elections will be held in January; indeed Ms. Bhutto thinks the government has already decided to wait at least a year before allowing any votes. Pakistan has insisted though that elections will be held later next spring. All of this has certainly caused some consternation amongst the general populace of the nation which numbers over 160 million. However, as Associated Press reporter Robin McDowell said: “though anger is mounting, there does not appear to be a groundswell of popular resistance in the nation which has been, really, under military rule for much of its 60-year history. With many people apathetic about politics, rallies so far have been limited largely to opposition activists, rights workers and lawyers angered by the attacks on the judiciary.”
It is time for the United States to realize that we cannot always put a diplomatic spin on every foreign issue, and that diplomatic posturing is often a substitute for real action. We must often take hard stands in support of some individuals and governments that (were the times not so perilous) we would not certainly embrace. The basic fact however is simply that we must place in rank of importance our survival as a nation, and therefore the survival of the globe on which our nation rests, above all other issues.
Brokering a deal between Israel and Palestine may be a goal for a Bush-Rice legacy, but it pales in significance to the urgency of the Pakistan crisis. This is the home of the enemy: the terrorists of al-Qaeda and their most important splinter groups.
Our stand — which must always, at the bottom, strongly support democracy — should stand against the radicals which, for now, means aligning with Musharraf. Somehow — working with him, with Bhutto and others — we need to do whatever we can to prevent Pakistan from becoming “Talibanistan.” Which is easier said than done.
And while this goes on, we must revive our wasted alliance with India. The Clinton-era sanctions on India for its own nuclear program are now gone, but more needs to be done to ensure that the world’s largest democracy knows we are with them, and not with any radical elements in Pakistan.
Our state department needs to get its point of view down and state it clearly to America and the world. Right now, indeed, Pakistan is the front line in the war on terror. Our decision right now is between human rights, most of which have really not been violated by the new orders in Pakistan, or potentially human survival. Let a few lawyers scream, let the activists decry the loss of some freedoms, while the rest of us applaud the fact that the Pakistan government is still relatively stable and harshly opposed to the fundamental extremists and the terrorists.
To paraphrase what Lord Palmerston said to Queen Victoria in 1848: America has no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests. And those we must pursue.