June 18, 2006

Islamist takeover in Pakistan? That's what Musharraf wants you to think.

The Carnegie Endowment for Peace has just released a fascinating article about Pakistan's military and the threat of an Islamist takeover. In it, the author, Frederic Grare makes a compelling case for the notion that "the risk of an Islamist takeover in Pakistan is a myth" overexaggerated by the Pakistani military to consolidate power and to discourage the United States and the rest of the world from clamoring for democratic reform. The Atlantic Monthly, which narrowly beats out The Economist as my favorite magazine, provides a great summary in its Primary Sources section. This claim has some crucial implications. First, if the threat of an Islamist takeover is indeed a myth, the Pakistani government has no good reason for halting the march of democracy in their country. Even if the Islamist threat was possible, it still does not necessarily follow that the government should be so autocratic, but with this paper, not even the Bush Administration has a reason to go easy on Musharraf. Second, this is another example of what I see to be a recurring, unintended, and probably inevitable consequence of the war on terrorism. Namely, the United States has provided a language of fear that can be adopted by any government to justify its behavior. In other words, the threat of terrorism (particularly when it is married with Islamic fundamentalism) legitimates government action that might otherwise be deemed unacceptable. I'm thinking, of course, of Putin's action in Chechnya shortly after 9/11.Third, we should, if we weren't already, be very wary of Pakistan's army. There are many nuclear weapons experts that believe that if there were to be a nuclear exchange in the near future, it would be between Pakistan and India. Therefore, an uncontrollable army in either country should worry the world. The Pakistan's army has 50,000 more soldiers than our own army (for a total of 550,000). Even more destabilizing is the number of generals (1,000!) who are not commanders in the field, but administrators in corporations, universities, and other key institutions once they retire.We cannot allow Pakistan to use the mantle of a terrorist threat to cloak the real threat to democracy in the country and security in the region: its own army.