Friday, August 07, 2009

Important political moment in Pakistan

But, despite the alarmist talk we've been hearing this year about how Pakistan and its nuclear weapons is about to fall under the control of the Taliban, our crack press corps seems to have basically ignored it so far. Citing this BBC report by Syed Shoaib Hasan, Musharraf emergency 'unlawful' 07/31/09, Juan Cole in an Informed Comment blog post of 08/07/09 explains:

But the really big news out of Pakistan in the last week was the finding of the restored Supreme Court that Gen. Pervez Musharraf's emergency decree of November, 2007, was unconstitutional. The ruling has larger implications, in perhaps suggesting that all of Pakistan's military coups have been unconstitutional. This is the first time that the Pakistani Supreme Court has so forcefully stood up to the military.

If the American press and political establishment was serious about supporting democracy in Pakistan and the Muslim World, we'd have seen an avalanche of comment praising the Supreme Court ruling as a victory for democracy. I did a keyword search at Lexis under television transcripts and could not find any evidence that anyone in national television or radio except Julie McCarthy at NPR even mentioned the epochal Pakistani Supreme Court ruling! ...

Pakistan is not, as is often alleged, a failed state, and the Supreme Court ruling is a big piece of evidence that the country has a functioning judiciary. [my emphasis]
We've expanded the Afghanistan War into Pakistan with all sorts of associated risk involved. But the US press can't be bothered to keep up with something like this. Cole calls this ruling "a bigger turning point in Pakistani history than any we have seen since 1947." If we had a functioning national press here in the US, more people might know about this.

This has longer-term implications for American policy. For years, the US foreign policy establishment has tended to feel more comfortable with military rulers in Pakistan than with elected governments there. This certainly complicates that policy option of encouraging military coups in Pakistan. Cole explains that our most recent friendly military dictator in Pakistan maybe wasn't entirely constructive for US interests:

Musharraf consistently got a pass from the US media and Washington establishment, even though he had been before September 11 a big supporter of the Taliban (it wasn't ideological; he is a secularist). Under his leadership, the Pakistani government took some $10 billion from the United States, some of which it appears to have used to reinvigorate elements of the Taliban so as to destabilize southern Afghanistan and to assert Pakistani power there (at the same time, the Pakistani army was ordered to fight other Taliban, presumably ones threatening Islamabad instead of Kabul). Musharraf even halted a Pakistani military operation initiated by [his predecessor] Nawaz Sharif and Bill Clinton to send in a SWAT team to capture or kill Usama Bin Laden. When Musharraf took power, he told the US he wasn't interested. Musharraf, in his arrogance that only he knows what is good for Pakistan, is actually quite scary, but Washington loved him because he said he was fighting Taliban! [my emphasis]
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