Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pakistan in 1,000 words or less

Dropping a non-Iraq foreign policy post here!

Ted Rall’s latest column another home run, a great snapshot of the contradictions of both the country and President Pervez Musharraf. The president walks a tightrope, and in doing so (though this is outside the purview of Rall’s column), induces contradictions, if not outright schizophrenia, from Bush, who alternates between pushing him too hard, treating him like a toady, and treating him with kid gloves.
Pakistan is a military dictatorship with a wild, freewheeling press, ruled by an antidemocratic despot who respects many democratic institutions. A graduate of a Catholic high school and a Presbyterian college, General Pervez Musharraf came to power by allying himself with radical Islamist political parties who convinced him to invite Afghanistan's Taliban militia into Pakistan to fight India. Most Pakistanis are secular and favor modernization, yet watch their nation's Talibanization in passive silence.

If your head is spinning, congrats--you're Pakistani for 1000 words.

Musharraf is playing a dangerous game, balancing the hopes and fears of educated liberals to the left against radical Muslim clerics on the right. Most leaders who deploy a strategy of reverse triangulation end up with no support at all. Because Musharraf has transformed the Pakistani political system into the personification of his policies, Pakistan itself could follow suit.

The biggest clash in Pakistani society, however, is common to the Third World: a widening gap between the lives of a few well-off individuals and millions of everyone elses. Frustrated at the toll that the dismal condition of Pakistani highways took on its bus lines, South Korea's Daewoo conglomerate decided to spend $375 million to build its own. The privatized six-lane toll road of immaculate asphalt allows elite motorists to zip through the impoverished wasteland separating Islamabad and the Punjabi capital of Lahore in a mere four hours. If you're Jamal Schmo, it costs 12 hours and the occasional broken axle.

The thing is, he is probably, faults and all, close to our best alternative to lead Pakistan at this time. Benazir Bhutto, though having new-found popularity in Pakistan, probably still has the virus of corruption in her bloodstream.

And, it was actually Bhutto who first opened the door to the Taliban in Afghanistan, before her second deposition.

Anyway, as far as Musharraf, the attempt to depose Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has been his biggest mistake to date. Up until that point, more American policy leaders could probably turn a halfway blind eye to him, but he has now taken bending Pakistan’s constitution too far.

But, again, options in Pakistan aren’t the best.

Cross posted at SocraticGadfly.