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Stop Funding Musharraf

TNR's Joshua Kurlantzick makes a strong case for jettisoning Musharraf: When faced with past choices about whether to support Musharraf, American officials had to consider whether an alternative would be worse. Today, a realistic alternative would not be. For all … Read More

By / November 6, 2007

When faced with past choices about whether to support Musharraf, American officials had to consider whether an alternative would be worse. Today, a realistic alternative would not be. For all their street noise and violence, radical Islamist groups in Pakistan have never won more than a small sliver of the vote, and aren't likely to anytime soon. Pakistan's nuclear program is under a tight command, and Musharraf's downfall likely would not compromise it. As a recent analysis of Pakistani nukes by the Stimson Center showed, "The installations that house Pakistan's nuclear weapons and fissile material, as would be expected, are heavily guarded and among the most secure facilities in all of Pakistan." The article went on to note that Pakistan has actually been through worse unrest in the past without compromising its nukes.

By supporting a return to democracy in Pakistan and cutting links to Musharraf, the U.S. would run the risk of another term of Bhutto's leadership, and possibly further corruption and misrule. But at least democracy under Bhutto, as opposed to martial rule under Musharraf, would provide more space for new political voices that might someday challenge older leaders, reform Pakistani politics, and siphon potential voters from radical Islamist parties. After all, past eras of civilian rule featured vibrant political battles in Islamabad.

The concern is that in the time it takes to transfer power to an elected head of state, Musharraf's pro-Al Qaeda enemies in the military might see this as an opportunity to attempt a coup of their own. And aren't those nuclear weapon facilities only as secure the person in charge of the personnel who guard them?

Lee Smith at Slate lays out the alternative plan — sticking by Musharraf as the least bad option:

If the secretary of state is concerned that Pakistan is falling behind in its commitment to democracy, she should recall that there is no democracy without the institutions of a nation state, and if Musharraf falls, there is no telling what would happen next. For instance, an al-Qaida state would be considerably less accommodating around issues of government reform, not to mention at fighting al-Qaida. Besides, the Bush White House has done such a poor job of articulating what it means by democracy, it is hardly surprising that it sometimes appears to be a major part of its post-9/11 national security strategy and sometimes not.

The problem with this assessment is that there is no guarantee, even if Musharraf remains in office, that all of the military will go along with him, especially at this moment of weakness in his regime. Recall that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the confessed "mastermind" of 9/11, was captured in Rawalpindi, a city that is virtually under a permanent state of martial law as it serves as the headquarters for the Pakistan Armed Forces. How was one of the most wanted men on the planet able to make this district his safe haven after the fall of the Taliban? Moreover, who else is still hiding within the well-guarded neighborhoods of Pakistan's military and political elite?

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