Musharraf departs

2008-08-22 00:00

The world’s closest shave with nuclear war occurred in 1990 during one of India and Pakistan’s periodic confrontations over Kashmir. While India is a true democracy, Pakistan has struggled to fulfil the vision of its founder, M. A. Jinnah: a state for Muslims, rather than a Muslim state. Indeed, Tariq Ali, a prominent Pakistani intellectual, has asked whether the country can survive.

This makes the recent resignation of President Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a coup in 1999, an event of significance. Under normal circumstances, the handover of authority by a dictator to elected politicians would be cause for satisfaction. But Pakistan is an unstable state in a highly volatile region. The country’s fault lines are numerous — geographic, ethnic, linguistic, economic and religious.

Parts of rural Pakistan run on traditional, feudal lines; the Taliban controls areas of the northwest frontier and there is a breakaway movement in Baluchistan. The most obvious sign of instability has been military intervention in politics. Civilian administrations have routinely been removed by the armed forces, which harbour extremist religious elements. Lurking in the background is the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, a state within a state that runs various militant organisations and has a stake in Pakistan’s nuclear capability.

Some observers have described Musharraf as the Ataturk of Pakistan who has used his authority to modernise. But overconfidence hastened Musharraf’s downfall when he took on the judiciary and dismissed some of its key figures. Power now reverts to politicians with a reputation for corruption rather than service delivery in a country of weak state institutions.

The current coalition between bitter historic rivals, held together by little more than dislike of the now-departed Musharraf, is likely to fall apart. It is divided over the restoration of judges known to be actively opposed to corruption, which hardly augurs well for good governance.

It might be argued that the region is better served by a relatively benign military ruler in Pakistan than a weak civilian administration. And with renewed unrest in Kashmir and Taliban insurgency on the rise in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s politicians may soon have to answer Ali’s challenging question.

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