Pakistan, Since the Coup

In ZNet, Pervez Hoodbhoy looks at Pakistan, 7 years after Musharraf’s coup.

Some had feared – while others had hoped – that General Pervez Musharraf’s coup of October 12, 1999, would bring the revolution of Kemal Ataturk to a Pakistan and wrest the country from the iron grip of mullahs. But years later a definitive truth has emerged. Like the other insecure governments before it, both military and civilian, the present regime also has a single point agenda – to stay in power at all costs. It therefore does whatever it must and Pakistan falls further from any prospect of acquiring modern values, and of building and strengthening democratic institutions.

The requirements for survival of the present regime are clear: on the one hand the Army leadership knows that its critical dependence upon the West requires that it be perceived abroad as a liberal regime pitted against radical Islamists. But, on the other hand, in actual fact, to preserve and extend its grip on power, it must preserve the status quo.

The staged conflicts between General Musharraf and the mullahs are therefore a regular part of Pakistani politics. This September, nearly seven years later, the religious parties needed no demonstration of muscle power for winning two major victories in less than a fortnight; just a few noisy threats sufficed. From experience they knew that the Pakistan Army and its sagacious leader – of “enlightened moderation” fame – would stick to their predictable pattern of dealing with Islamists. In a nutshell: provoke a fight, get the excitement going, let diplomatic missions in Islamabad prepare their briefs and CNN and BBC get their clips – and then beat a retreat. At the end of it all the mullahs would get what they want, but so would the General.

And see also this piece by him on related issues.

[A]t the heart of Pakistan’s problems lies a truth – one etched in stone – that when a state proclaims a religious identity and mission, it is bound to privilege those who organize religious life and interpret religious text. Since there are many models and interpretations within every religion, there is bound to be conflict between religious forces over whose model shall prevail. There is also the larger confrontation between religious principles and practices and what we now consider to be ‘modern’ ideas of society, which have emerged over the past several hundred years. This truth, for all its simplicity, escaped the attention of several generations of soldiers, politicians, and citizens of Pakistan. It is true that there has been some learning – Musharraf’s call for “enlightened moderation” is a tacit (and welcome) admission that a theocratic Pakistan cannot work. But his call conflicts with his other, more important, responsibility as chief of the Pakistan Army.