August 21, 2008

Uncertainty rises after Musharraf’s departure

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Uncertainty rises after Musharraf’s departure
America's global war on terror has now gotten more difficult


Now that Pervez Musharraf has resigned as the president of Pakistan, America’s global war on terror has gotten a bit more difficult. Musharraf was unpopular in his own country, but he was perceived here as a strong ally of the United States in its fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was Musharraf that switched his country’s policy towards both groups almost immediately after the al-Qaida attacks on the U.S. in September 2001, a dangerous move on his part.

Musharraf’s decision to stop support for the Taliban and ally himself with the nation dedicated to removing them from power took great personal courage. After all, it was the Pakistani military intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which played a major role in the creation of the Taliban and was a key supporter of al-Qaida since its inception in the late 1980’s. Pakistan’s support to the United States, due almost solely to Musharraf, was critical to early American successes against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

Since 2001, Musharraf’s fate has been sealed, however. Various Islamist groups in the country were infuriated by his turn to the West and seeming treachery towards the Pushtuns that inhabit the Northwest Frontier Province, and North and South Waziristan. Not only was Musharraf perceived as turning against his own countrymen, but turning against his fellow Muslims as well. Pakistan is home to some of the world’s most radical Muslim clerics and most fundamentalist madrassas, Islamic religious schools. It was only a matter of time before he would become the target of the wrath and ire of the Islamists, including the Taliban and al-Qaida. Several assassination attempts underscored the level of anger directed at the president. There are numerous Islamic groups in Pakistan and few if any supported Musharraf.

Situation may get worse
There are calls now for Pakistan to embrace democracy, to adopt more transparent political processes. At some point, the power struggle to replace Musharraf will be resolved; most likely an arrangement for governance will be made between Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League and Benazir Bhutto widower Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party.

It is unlikely that the new government in Islamabad will provide the same level of support for American efforts in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, recent Pakistani support, even under Musharraf, was insufficient to stop the Taliban from using Pakistan’s border areas as safe havens from which to launch attacks at American and coalition forces in Afghanistan, or to stop al-Qaida from re-establishing its base operations in the tribal areas. Without earnest Pakistani efforts to seal their border with Afghanistan, a solution to the Taliban resurgence without unilateral American cross-border operations will be next to impossible.

This situation has the potential to deteriorate even further. If Democratic processes take hold – and that is not a given and we may face the prospect of a future popular election in which the majority of Pakistanis, angry at what they perceive as Musharraf’s treachery in supporting the United States and fearful of too much democracy too fast, elect an Islamist government. Nawaz Sharif has in the past proposed the establishment of Sharia law in the country. The election of an Islamic party will be reminiscent of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, but this time with much more profound implications.

We do not need, nor is the world ready for, an Islamist state with an arsenal of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, either by air, missile or terrorist. Stability in Pakistan is essential to our efforts in Afghanistan; the consequences of instability are too frightening to contemplate.