Paradoxically, Gen. Pervez Musharraf may have accelerated his downfall by taking on radicals that he had to destroy. If he hadn’t taken the Red Mosque radicals out, that would also have weakened him by showing that he’s incapable of dealing with threats to the peace. In most of the world, the Ghazi brothers would be little more than David Koresh-style radicals. But taking them on the Pakistan, like most of the Islamic world, is a lose-lose. Leave them alone and the threat festers; destroy them and they become martyrs and symbols for a righteous cause.
Gen. Musharraf took the Pakistani government in a bloodless coup in 1999. He had been appointed Pakistan’s top general by the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, over senior officers because he was seen as a loyal yes-man. So much for that. Eight years later, Musharraf still rules one of the most difficult and cantankerous countries in the world; Sharif isn’t allowed to enter Pakistan at all.
Pakistan itself was created by partitioning India. Those who propose partitioning Iraq along sectarian lines on the hope that it will create peace, think twice: Are India and Pakistan best of friends now? Is their relationship the source of world peace or a major threat to it? Pakistan is the source of the Taliban’s rise to power in pre-9-11 Afghanistan and it’s the source of many of the terrorists who have been trying to attack the UK. And it may be where al Qaeda’s leadership is holed up today. Imagine a Sunni Iraq, partitioned from and embittered to its Shia and Kurdish neighbors. Or imagine a Shia partition in southern Iraq, allied to Iran and constantly chafing against Saudi Arabia to its south. Partition is not a magic bullet for Iraq; it would probably cause as many problems as it solves. Just to take one more side road, the “rubble makes no trouble argument” ought to be a non-starter among serious observers as well. Rubble makes an awful lot of trouble when it’s left alone and dark forces can slip in and operate. See Afghanistan circa 1999-2001 and Somalia for examples. So we probably ought not partition Iraq, and we can’t just leave it in a state of chaos and destruction.
Which brings us back to Musharraf. Like Pakistan itself, he is a study in contradictions: His government supported the Taliban’s rise to power in neighboring Afghanistan, but after 9-11 he allowed Pakistan to become one of America’s most important bases of operations against the Taliban. Musharraf and his ISI has helped capture some of al Qaeda’s most notorious operatives, such as 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, but Musharraf has allowed the Taliban and thereby al Qaeda safe haven in tribal Waziristan and the ISI itself is divided in its loyalties. Musharraf rules Pakistan as a dictator, but by most accounts a benign one who allows opposition parties and press to have their say. And he doesn’t really rule the tribal areas of Pakistan at all. His writ in Waziristan is so weak he has all but ceded it to the Taliban. Still, the closest analogue to Musharraf might be Turkey’s modernizer, Kemal Ataturk. From a civil liberties point of view Ataturk was a monster in many ways, but the Turkey that he created hasn’t been a threat to the West or Israel and hasn’t spawned significant terrorist factions in the way that, say, Saudi Arabia has. Musharraf doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as uncompromising as Ataturk was in suppressing radicals who threaten the peace. His government’s support for the Taliban prior to 9-11 casts a long shadow over Musharraf’s possible career as a liberalizing and modernizing force for Pakistan.
But Musharraf might be the best we can hope for in the Islamic world for the foreseeable future. The push to democratize the Middle East has already brought Hamas to power in Palestine and sectarian parties like the Iran-linked SCIRI to power in Iraq. By popular demand, sharia has been written into the Afghan and Iraqi constitutions. Parties like Hamas and SCIRI and Moqtada al-Sadr’s political militia appear willing to use democracy to take power, and just as willing to discard democracy as Satanic once they have gained a solid grip on that power. Sadr has embraced and rejected democratic power multiple times, as the winds in Iraq have shifted. If Musharraf were to allow free elections in Pakistan today, it’s a safe bet that a coalition including Islamist parties would end up dominating the government, and they would do what they could to increase the power of sharia over Pakistan even if the majority didn’t want it. This month’s raid on the Red Mosque, nexus of radical fervor in Islamabad, was the right thing to do from a strategic point of view, but might well cost Musharraf his rule. Red Mosque sympathizers have set off a string of bombings across Pakistan intended to ramp up chaos and weaken him and are threatening more revenge. So far, 137 people have died in retaliatory terror attacks. In