Here's a short piece that I had intended to try to publish in the mainstream. I think the coverage of the democratic convention kind of squashed it... H/t to Emily at Foreign Policy in Focus for doing an edit on this.
What the U.S. needs to know about Pakistan's recent past and immediate future
In September 2001, Pervez Musharraf had a choice. He could either fulfill his promises made to the Pakistani people (to hold an election in early 2002 and resign as president) or he could bow to U.S. pressure to cancel those plans entirely and allow Pakistan to serve as a lynchpin for an upcoming U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. If any democratic principles were to be invoked, there’s no doubt what the Pakistani people would have chosen. They had no interest in getting involved in a U.S. war against their neighbor. Instead of following the will of the Pakistani people and following through on his commitments, Musharraf chose to embrace the U.S. agenda.
Now that he has announced his resignation seven years later, Musharraf’s decision to side with U.S. interests against the interests of his own people remains the central moment of his leadership. Defenders of his legacy may say that given the dire events of September 11, 2001 and the strong role that the United States has played in Pakistan since the 1970s Musharraf had little choice. Detractors may retort that regardless of the limited options, it was unconscionable to invest resources in a U.S. war when Pakistan clocks in at 136th place out of 177 countries in the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Program. The country needs to spend its limited resources instead on basic infrastructure, education services, and healthcare.
These points of view ignore a basic fact – whether Musharraf's actions were right or wrong, they took the country further away from democracy. No one believes that the Pakistani public would have supported the war against the Taliban - an AC Nielsen poll conducted in December 2001 showed only 9% support for the U.S. action in Afghanistan. In order to act in line with U.S. interests, Masharraf was playing the part of the totalitarian dictator. He overrode existing safeguards – by consolidating his power as head of all branches of the armed services, for example – to ensure that his wishes were obeyed. For his heavy-handed actions he was richly praised in the U.S. media and elsewhere. It wasn’t until he repeated that heavy-handedness in 2007, when Musharraf suspended the constitution as well as several senior judges in order to ensure his smooth transition to civilian rule, that anyone in the West began to criticize him.
Musharraf's story gives the lie to the claim that the Bush's agenda in the Muslim world was one of "democratization." If Musharraf had followed the will of his people in 2001, the United States may have taken measures to remove him from office in addition to waging war against the Taliban, so important was Pakistan as the frontline in the “War on Terror”.
As Bush's tenure draws to a close, leaving a legacy that includes a failed foreign policy, this is a good time to evaluate the nation’s relationship with Pakistan and to seek a new course. Pakistan's current leaders have spoken out in favor of negotiating with tribal leaders allied with the Taliban instead of seeking to drop bombs on them - bombs that don’t discriminate between soldier and civilian. If they are sincere in their efforts, they have a chance at ending the cycle of violence that has plagued the region for decades. Since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, both of Pakistan’s mainstream political parties enjoy mass support in a completely new way. For us in the United States, the best way we can show our support for the struggling Pakistani state and any hope it has at democracy is to get out of the way.
Sameer Dossani is a Pakistani-American, a Foreign Policy In Focus contributor, and director of 50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice.