Monday, November 5, 2007

Understanding Pakistan

As Chuck D once said, "Don't believe the hype." While Condi Rice may make a few noises about Pakistani President (and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces) Perez Musharraf "taking off his uniform," the dictator is content to sit back with a simple Shakespearean reply: the lady doth protest too much. Indeed, President Musharraf is well aware that while Secretary of State Rice may be compelled to raise a squeak here and there about "democracy" and such, his regime is utterly assured of its continuing support from the United States. As Pakistani information minister Tariq Azim Khan put it, “They [the US] would rather have a stable Pakistan — albeit with some restrictive norms — than have more democracy prone to fall in the hands of extremists. Given the choice, I know what our friends would choose.” So while Rice may voice a complaint here or there, everyone should be aware that this coup has implicit US support. As M K Bhadrakumar of the Asia Times points out, Admiral William Fallon, the head of United States Central Command, was at the headquarters of the Pakistani armed forces while the coup was being announced. Bhadrakumar tells how Fallon attempted to dissuade Musharraf from going ahead with the coup, but ultimately failed.

The reason the US has to continue supporting the Pakistani regime even if they disagree with a particular tactical move at this juncture is that Pakistan is a key US ally in a region where that species is becoming rapidly endangered. US puppet governments in Afghanistan and Iraq are violently unstable. The American proxy torture regime in Egypt is facing a two front war against the Muslim Brotherhood's movement for increased democracy and the rise of a new militant trade union movement. Turkey, incensed over US favoritism towards the kurds in Northern Iraq, has been taking moves to demonstrate a larger degree of independence from Bush and co. The US simply cannot afford to lose a friendly regime in Islamabad.

Nonetheless, I'd imagine that Musharraf's handlers in Washington are quite upset with him at the moment. For months they had been working to mend the rift between the army (represented by Musharraf) and the rest of the Pakistani ruling class, who were growing quite tired of the General's heavy handed rule and his inability to deal with the rising support for radical Islamic groups. Tariq Ali, in a very useful column, describes how the return of Benzair Bhutto last month was engineered by Washington as a way of throwing a life preserver to Musharraf's regime. The bombing which interrupted her return only serves as a reminder of the impracticality of thinking that there is a simple political solution to the kind of deep rooted social crisis Pakistan is facing.

That Musharraf would interrupt this attempted reconciliation with a virtual declaration of war on the dissident bourgeoisie explains why Bhutto is now so angry with her one time political partner. The scale of the repression the General has inflicted against elements of the middle class illustrates just how insecure his rule is at the moment: all communications are blacked out, including cell phones; the chief justice of the Supreme Court has been arrested; the president of the bar association has been arrested; over 5,000 journalists and lawyers have been detained.

The roots of this paranoia lie in Musharraf's lack of confidence in his support from the Pakistani bourgeoisie, represented by the Supreme Court. Tariq Ali points out in a different column that the Supreme Court had recently contested Musharraf's decisions on treatment of prisoners and rushed privatizations. Most importantly, however, was the Supreme Court's upcoming decision which would rule on the legitimacy of Musharraf's re-election as President. Afraid that he could not control the outcome of this decision, he reacted by repressing those opposing him.

And while Washington (and its sycophant Banazir Bhutto) may express discontent with Musharraf's chosen course of action, they are ultimately unable to oppose it in any real fashion. Pakistan's military is fighting a losing battle against forces allied with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The US needs all the military assistance it can get at a time when its supporters are dropping like flies. Bhadrakumar sums up the results of a recent meeting of NATO countries' defense ministers:

The US failed to extract any increased troop commitments at the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers meeting. German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her first-ever visit to Kabul on Saturday flatly refused to deploy German troops in the volatile southern provinces of Afghanistan. The new government in Tokyo has cut back on Japan's involvement by stopping refueling of US ships servicing the war in Afghanistan. The new government in Poland is reviewing its association with Bush's war.
As Musharraf has effective control over the Pakistani army, the US simply cannot risk alienating him, even if the course he pursues leaves a different ruling class constellation presiding over the country than the one they would prefer.

As the crusty old colonialist Lord Palmerston once said, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” Right now, the US interest is in having a military puppet in Pakistan, and they'll take whatever friends they can get to provide it.