A pyrrhic victory for democracy in Pakistan

Musharraf has been the main bulwark seeking to stem the tide of terrorism and fanaticism.

Sharif supporters 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Sharif supporters 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
We are, understandably, so immersed in the goings on in our own tiny sand pit that we barely bother to raise our eyes over the rim to see what is happening in the wide world around us. There are, however, dramatic events occurring out there. The world is not standing still. There are developments that can affect us in one way or another and we should take note of them and assess their possible impact on our lives. The most obvious example is the current election campaign in the United States, but that is the exception to the rule, for America is the one foreign policy issue that we in Israel do follow closely, for obvious reasons. Take, however, another election campaign that ended a week ago, the one in Pakistan, a country of some 165 million Muslims - and a store of atom bombs. There are those who say that it is not Iran that is the most dangerous country in the world; it is Pakistan, home of millions of fanatic supporters of al-Qaida, where Osama bin Laden himself may well be holed up; a Pakistan that, unlike Iran, already has solved the nuclear conundrum and manufactured its own nuclear device. For me Iran still outranks any other country in its danger to the world, and certainly to us. It lacks the checks and balances that exist in Pakistan. For one, Iran has a bigoted fanatic as president; Pakistan's president is a moderate, dedicated to fighting fanaticism and terror. Yet Pakistan is a dangerous place, and we should not ignore what is happening there. In the mountainous region of the North-West Frontier, in the hills of Pakistani Baluchistan, in Peshawar, in Quetta and in other centers where thousands of Taliban from Afghanistan sought refuge, new Osama bin Ladens are being spawned. The people went to the polls earlier this month, and the president's party was roundly defeated. The world - at least, the United States and Europe - hailed it as a victory for democracy, one more pyrrhic victory taking its place alongside the election of Hamas, the democratic government in Iraq, the gains of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the name of democracy, etc. "The military dictator has been defeated," was the refrain, ignoring the fact that former chief of staff President Pervez Musharraf overthrew the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif in 1999 because of rampant corruption and mismanagement that threatened to tear the country apart and to open the gates of Pakistan to the worst form of fanaticism. An earlier president back in the '90s had dismissed Sharif for "maladministration, corruption, nepotism" and for the espousal of political violence, but he was reinstated shortly afterwards. Nawaz Sharif did very well in last week's elections. His party, together with the late Benazir Bhutto's party, will form the new government. He is demanding that Musharraf step down, giving the poor showing of the president's party as proof that he is no longer wanted. His demand is echoed in certain quarters in the United States and in Europe. The truth is that the president has been the main bulwark seeking to stem the tide of terrorism and fanaticism that has swept over Pakistan. Hardly a day passes without a suicide bomber or a shootout in some part of the country. In a land in which Osama bin Laden is much more popular than George W. Bush, Musharraf has courageously followed a policy of allying himself with the US in its war against terror. If there was one reason for his poor showing in the elections it was the perception that he has been a lackey of the US, and that does not go down well in the bazaars and souks of Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi. Another reason was the steep rise of food prices in the world. In Pakistan the price of flour went up by nearly 400 percent, with dramatic effect on the livelihood of the poor who make up a large majority of the population. So what is preferable? To have as president a man who took over the country in a non-democratic manner but who has been fighting terrorism, fanaticism and corruption and who has been enacting reforms for the good of the country, or to have corrupt politicians, feudal lords under whose tutelage terror may well thrive and prosper? The two parties that won the elections - one left-of-center and the other conservative - are at loggerheads, and their government will, in all probability, herald a period of extreme instability, unless Musharraf ignores the calls to resign and continues at his post. WE MUST of course, look for an Israeli twist to events in Pakistan. Sometimes small, seemingly irrelevant tales can tell us a great deal. In the center of one of the busiest intersections in downtown Karachi is a monument dedicated to the three ideals of the country: faith, unity and discipline. On the white surface of the monument someone had written, in the days when Nawaz Sharif still ruled the country, in large, bold letters: "Down with Israel," and it remained there for a long time, for the tens of thousands of motorists who daily crossed the intersection to see. That particular eyesore was rubbed out only after Sharif was sent packing by President Musharraf. Sharif was quite happy to encourage anti-Israeli slogans; the general turned president thought differently, for he was engaged in a fight against all forms of extremism, including attacks against Israel. More to the point, Pakistan is a country with a nuclear capacity. The Pakistani army is responsible for the safety of the nuclear weapons, and Musharraf's influence on the army is such that it can be safely said that those weapons will not fall into irresponsible hands. Our Western pro-democracy friends, however, would like to see Musharraf removed in the name of democracy. We have already seen how "the father of the Pakistani bomb," Abdul Qadeer Khan, succeeded in illegally transferring nuclear technological secrets to Iran and to other "clients." If Musharraf resigns and the country slips into greater instability, the danger of a nuclear fall-out would be greatly multiplied. I am all for democracy, but only for countries that are ready for it. Pakistan is still in need of the tutelage of a man like Musharraf, as the violence that characterized the weeks leading up to the elections in Pakistan so amply demonstrated. Let us hope that this will be understood by our friends in the West and that, in their commendable zest for democracy, they will not throw out the baby with the bathwater. A further deterioration in the shaky structure that is Pakistan would be bad for the world, and certainly bad for us in Israel.