After Musharraf, the Deluge

Pakistan’s Musharraf has resigned, and everyone seems happy. Pakistanis danced in the streets and fired guns in the air, and one retired soldier in Peshawar even declared: “The root cause of all problems has gone.”

Yet Pakistan’s future doesn’t look to be problem-free. Pakistan is rapidly becoming the most dangerous nation on earth — if it isn’t that already. As one senior White House advisor recently told HUMAN EVENTS editor Jed Babbin, the “safe havens” for more than one million jihad terrorists that exist in Western Pakistan constitute the most severe terrorism-related problem the world faces today.

And that problem is not going to improve with the departure of Musharraf, for it is rooted in the power of Pakistan’s spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). General David D. McKiernan just last week accused the ISI of aiding the jihadists who have grown increasingly assertive in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as in Afghanistan itself: “There certainly is a level of ISI complicity,” said McKiernan, “in the militant areas in Pakistan and organizations such as the Taliban.” He said that the ISI was “facilitating these militant groups that come out of the tribal areas in Pakistan.” Likewise, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has for quite some time charged Pakistan with fomenting the jihad against his regime.

All of this is likely true: it’s entirely consistent with ISI’s record. The ISI, we must remember, was behind the formation of the Taliban government in Afghanistan when the Soviet Union withdrew its invasion force.

Musharraf, of course, defended the ISI against such charges. Just two weeks ago he reiterated that the ISI was “the first defense line of Pakistan,” and that “weakening the ISI would also weaken the war on terror.” He claimed that “conspiracies against the ISI were aimed at defaming Pakistan,” and insisted that “ISI is a patriotic institution, which is working for the stability of the country.” It was emblematic of the double game Musharraf appears to have played since the beginning of his regime, paying lip service to his alliance with the West and his commitment to anti-terror efforts while doing little or nothing to root out sympathizers with the global jihad at the highest levels of the Pakistani government, and acquiescing to the establishment of a Taliban-like regime in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.

But what else could he have done? Terror Free Tomorrow polls conducted in August 2007 and January 2008 both found that a consistent level of about 75% of Pakistanis consider “implementing strict Sharia law throughout Pakistan” an “important” priority for the Pakistani government. Since the strict implementation of Sharia is the goal of the Taliban and groups allied to it within Pakistan itself, if Musharraf had acted energetically against the pro-Taliban elements within the ISI and the government in general, he probably would not have lasted in power as long as he did.

At the same time, one of the reasons why Musharraf was so widely hated in Pakistan was because he did at times act against the expanding influence of Islamic law — as when he moved decisively against the militant Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), a center of jihadist and pro-Sharia agitation. He also drew the opprobrium of hardline clerics when he supported a bill that mandated that crimes of rape be judged by the standards of modern forensic evidence, rather than by the traditional Islamic stipulation that it could only be established by the word of four male Muslim witnesses who saw the act.

Whatever regime that follows Musharraf is unlikely to have enough popular support to be able to chart a significantly different course. Any attempt to reduce the ISI’s enormous power will certainly fail. Pakistan’s leading exponent of political Islam, Maulana Sufi Muhammad, who was released from prison in May as a gesture of good will from the Pakistani regime, has announced that he will dedicate his efforts henceforth to implementing the fullness of Islamic law in the country. He may not find this a difficult task: one of the leading candidates to succeed Musharraf, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has supported legislation increasing the scope of Sharia law in Pakistan.

Sharif met Monday with Asif Ali Zardari, husband of the late Benazir Bhutto and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the nation’s largest party, to discuss Pakistan’s future. But however Sharif’s political fortunes may change in the coming days, the strong popular support for Islamic law in Pakistan is not going to disappear, and it will leave its mark on the next government. And that, in turn, will continue to strain the U.S./Pakistan alliance, as the imperatives of political Islam lead Pakistani officials to continue to obstruct and obfuscate anti-terror efforts — or maybe even to aid them actively and openly. Before too long, American officials may be looking back on the corrupt and duplicitous Musharraf regime as the good old days.