Letter from Pakistan: Resisting Feudalism?

Observers attribute the current emergency President Gen. Pervez Musharraf declared in Pakistan solely to his alleged "greed for power" and desire to continue to hold the offices of both president and chief of army. Any mono-causal explanation of political events, especially those fuelled by power struggles, is immediately suspect, for they are outcomes of complex interactions of competing social forces.

Equally facile is the assertion that President George W. Bush is putting pressure on the "dictator" to save the Pakistani people and usher democracy. But as we know in the world of realpolitik, states are guided by interests and not by sentiments. It is naive to believe that President Bush and his administration are shedding tears for the democratic rights of Pakistani masses. Indeed, the Bush administration cheerfully continues to bankroll medieval kingdoms and emirates in West Asia. No mention of democracy there. Rather, we must dig deeper; we must look at U.S. interests in Pakistan and the surrounding region to understand Bush's foreign policy posture.

When Musharraf overthrew the democratically-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the 1999 coup, he stymied Sharif's ploy to make the Koran the supreme law of the land a la Saudi Arabia and turn Pakistan into an undemocratic Islamic state. Western governments, especially in the U.S. and U.K., welcomed the "dictator" with open arms. They embraced him as a comrade-in-arms in the war against Islamic extremism. There was no talk of democracy then, because both Bush and Tony Blair took it for granted that Musharraf would be their docile ally.

But for Musharraf, Pakistan's national interest comes first. He refused to go along with Bush on Iraq. That was the first fissure.

Now, he is refusing to tow Bush's line and isolate Iran. In fact, he is going ahead with building the natural gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan in the teeth of opposition from the Bush administration. Similarly, he is expanding bi-lateral relations and nuclear cooperation with China against the express wishes of the Bush administration. So he has fallen out of favor in Washington (and London).

They need Musharraf to continue as president in the frontline state in the war on terror to keep the extremists at bay. But they also need to reduce his power and induce a change in Pakistani foreign policy to the advantage of U.S. and U.K.

So, democracy rears its ugly head!

Bush is promoting Benazir Bhutto because she is putty in his hands. If elected prime minister, she said, she would offer U.S. intelligence agencies access to Dr. A.Q. Khan and would allow U.S. forces free entry into Pakistan to search for Osama bin Laden. Musharraf has stoutly refused to concede both. If an Indian leader had similarly capitulated to a major foreign power, he or she would have been banished by the country's political elite. But Pakistan's immature political elite cannot see the wood for the trees. So Bhutto merrily sails along, willing to do Bush's bidding in return for his administration's support to occupy the prime minister's seat. She has made it clear to him she will go along with U.S. foreign policy Iraq, Iran and China.

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