Earlier this week, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan, temporarily suspending the nation’s constitution. This order emerged as Musharraf felt growing pressure from militants, judges and other Pakistani figures. Despite international opposition, he felt the order was necessary to maintain stability. The international community, along with many Pakistani citizens, feels the declaration is a huge setback for creating democracy in the nation and for moving forward with parliamentary elections. In response to the announcement, the U.S. chose to review aid sent to Pakistan without denouncing Musharraf’s actions outright. While some in the international community feel more stringent efforts need to be made to encourage the reinstatement of a constitutional democracy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the right decision to maintain relations.
President Musharraf came to power through a military coup executed nearly eight years ago. Since his assumption of power, he worked to bring democracy to this unstable state. Most notably for the U.S., Musharraf made Pakistan a key ally in the war on terror when he expressed his support for overthrowing the al-Qaeda regime controlling Afghanistan. He allowed the U.S. to use three military bases within his nation to aid the war efforts and has been a key ally since then.
Though he gained favor from the U.S., support from the Pakistani people is less enthusiastic. Because of his controversial assent to power, citizens have been skeptical of his alleged commitment to democracy. Musharraf only held elections twice, and neither were considered completely legitimate. In addition, he has done little to clean up the corruption that plagues the nation’s bureaucracy, and some believe he has exacerbated the problem. All of these factors combined create an unstable political realm for the president. He constantly fears being overthrown by the people or the military.
Considering his unstable hold on the presidency, it is wise for the U.S. to look past the desires of the Pakistani people in order to protect our own interests in the region. Our support from the Middle East is severely limited, making Pakistan all the more important as an ally. Secretary Rice’s decision to review aid sent to the region, without denouncing the acts of Musharraf outright, is a very wise maneuver to maintain support while also sending a subtle message. Moreover, maintaining open relations with Musharraf gives the U.S. negotiating power when issues arise between Pakistan and India. Because both nations have nuclear capabilities, the constant fighting between the two becomes even more worrisome.
But the question still remains: What should Musharraf do with his domestic issues? He is stuck between a rock and a hard place. A delicate balancing act is required to achieve the goals he feels are important, also taking into consideration the desires of the people. Additionally, Musharraf needs to consider U.S. action within the Middle East thus far. Should our support for his regime turn sour, U.S. military action in Pakistan could become a possibility. This becomes a greater reality if we deem military intervention in the entire Middle East necessary. But if there is one thing we can learn from the past, democracies tend not to fight democracies. If Musharraf wants to maintain stability within his nation, while also appeasing the U.S. – as he should aim to – a return to a path toward democracy ought to be quick. Maintaining peace with his neighbors in India (also a democracy) would be much easier if Pakistan were to remain democratic.
I applaud the Bush administration’s careful handling of this delicate situation. One wrong move could have turned Musharraf against the United States and made the war in Afghanistan much more difficult. While Pakistan remains in turmoil, I believe Musharraf is doing what he needs to prevent all-out civil war. A swift return to democracy is necessary, and for the sake of bringing peace to Middle East, let’s hope it happens soon.