Background: Democracy and Talibanization in Pakistan

Wrangling between Musharraf, Bhutto, Sharif and Chaudhary only strengthens the Taliban.

Bhutto 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bhutto 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The following is an analysis written last month Since the imposition of emergency rule on November 3, the word of the day in Pakistan and around the world is democracy, democracy, democracy, when the emphasis should be on security, as Pakistan descends into chaos largely caused by increasing Talibanization. While international attention focuses on the manhandling of protesting lawyers, jailed Supreme Court justices and fickle politicians, the Taliban and other Islamists expand their influence, sowing misery and fear. Across Pakistan's tribal belt, music stores and barbershops have closed and attacks against men without beards and unaccompanied women have increased. In one area, Islamists have warned women that their marriages will be annulled unless their husbands grow beards. These tensions are paralyzing Pakistan and undermining its ability to contend with Baitullah Mehsud, the unofficial emir of South Waziristan, and with Maulana Fazlullah, the acting leader of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws), which President Gen. Pervez Musharraf banned in 2002. These two men have led a campaign against the Pakistani army, killing and capturing hundreds of soldiers and undermining the military's morale. Moreover, their military successes have divided the army, with some officers demanding action against the two Islamists and others calling for an Islamic Pakistan in the tradition of former Pakistani president Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Evaluating Musharraf's agenda is difficult for those in the West because of a natural distaste for military regimes coupled with a fundamental belief that military leaders are untrustworthy. Musharraf has not helped his cause by refusing to take off his uniform. By remaining evasive on his status as a general, Musharraf prevents a closer examination of the agendas of his major political opponents: former premiers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who claim that democracy will only return to Pakistan with them at the helm. Consequently, the international media interviewing Bhutto, Sharif and their supporters gloss over their respective failures as prime ministers: under Bhutto the Taliban rose to power in Afghanistan, while under Sharif, Pakistan successfully tested five nuclear devices, leading to the imposition of limited US sanctions on the country. Even more important, nothing is mentioned of the corruption allegations hovering over Bhutto's head, or of Sharif's dalliance with Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an Islamist alliance. There is no doubt that Pakistan needs democracy. However, the wrangling between Musharraf, Bhutto, Sharif and former Supreme Court president Iftikhar Chaudhary only strengthens the Taliban and other Islamists who are using the political vacuum to takeover sections of the countryside. This has become apparent in the Swat Valley, a formerly tranquil tourist destination where followers of Fazlullah recently captured the towns of Madayan, Matta and Kwazakhela. Ultimately, if things continue along this path, the issues of democracy and democratization will become moot, as only one system and one voice is permitted under the Taliban: Islam and the mullahs. Dr. Isaac Kfir lectures on international relations at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.