In order for that argument to hold water, business as usual with Pakistan would have to paying dividends, which do not seem to be apparent. Al Qaeda is rebuilding its operational capabilities, and the New York Times is reporting that, despite the state of emergency which was ostensibly implemented in order to address the rising threat of Islamic militants, "in the last several days, the militants have extended their reach, capturing more territory in Pakistan’s settled areas." According to the Times:
local officials and Western diplomats said, there is little evidence that the 12-day-old emergency decree has increased the government’s leverage in fighting the militants, or that General Musharraf has used the decree to take any extraordinary steps to combat them.As for the fear that pressuring Musharraf might ultimately benefit the militants, Shikha Dalmia of the Reason Foundation makes an opposite argument in The Wall Street Journal. According to Dalmia:
The success of the militants in Swat has caused new concern in Washington about the ability and the will of Pakistani forces to fight the militants who are now training their sights directly on Pakistan’s government, not only on the NATO and American forces across the border in Afghanistan, Western officials said.
After several weeks of heavy clashes, the militants largely control Swat, the mountainous region that is the scenic jewel of Pakistan, and are pushing into Shangla, to the east. All of the sites lie deeper inside Pakistan than the tribal areas, on the Afghan border, where Al Qaeda, the Taliban and assorted foreign and local militants have expanded a stronghold in recent years. In Alpuri, the administrative headquarters of Shangla, a crowd of militants easily took over the police station, despite the emergency decree, Mayor Ibad Khan said.
Several events in the 12 days of martial law illustrate how little impact General Musharraf’s greater powers have had on the expanding insurgency.
On Nov. 4, the day after the declaration, General Musharraf approved the release of 213 soldiers who had been held captive by Baitullah Mehsud, one of the most powerful militant commanders in the tribal areas, in exchange for 25 militants captured in August.
General Musharraf acknowledged in an interview this week that some of the militants handed back to Mr. Mehsud were trained suicide bombers, and that one of the militants had been charged with involvement in a suicide attack.
The general said that he was not happy with the deal, but that Pakistan needed the soldiers back.
A suicide bomb attack on a government official in Peshawar last week showed how the militants were aiming at officials allied with General Musharraf.
the longer Mr. Musharraf is allowed to suspend democracy, the more politically powerful Pakistan's religious extremists are likely to become. Those who doubt this thesis should peer across Pakistan's southern border and examine what happened during India's two-year flirtation with emergency rule in 1975.
A similar political mainstreaming of radical Islamist groups might occur in Pakistan if Mr. Musharraf is allowed to prolong his power grab. In fact, the situation could be worse, given that, unlike India, Pakistan has never been a secular country and Islamists have always exerted considerable behind-the-scenes influence on government. They have infiltrated the Pakistani intelligence services and are well represented in the ranks of the civil bureaucracy. And there has always been close cooperation between Pakistan's generals and mullahs because of their common interest in cultivating Pakistan's Islamic identity and playing up the threat that Hindu India poses to it. The one government institution where Islamists have only a minority presence is the Pakistani Parliament.
But that might change if Mr. Musharraf continues to postpone elections and crush political opponents. Under such circumstances, Jammat-e-Islami (JI), Pakistan's oldest religious party with ties to the Taliban -- and an organization that harbors a long-standing desire to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, on the country -- and its sister organizations might well become useful to secular parties such as former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. JI and its cohorts command even bigger powers of mobilization than Jan Sangh did during India's emergency. They run madrassas, or religious schools, publish newspapers and have sizeable cadres that can be quickly deployed for street protests. These resources might prove vitally important in resisting Mr. Musharraf."Instead of the secular and religious parties working against each other, they will start working together," fears Prof. Hasan-Askari Rizvi of Punjab University in Lahore. Indeed, the Associated Press has already reported that Ms. Bhutto is inviting the Islamist parties, many of whose members too have been thrown in jail, to "join hands" with her. All of this will allow the Islamists to mask their real agenda and piggyback on a popular cause to win more representation in parliament when elections are held. Even if secularists like Ms. Bhutto prevail in these elections eventually, it will be much harder for them to resist Islamist demands if they are beholden to them for beating back the emergency. In effect, the Islamist reach will not only gain in depth -- but legitimacy as well.
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If Mr. Musharraf were prodded to call off the emergency and honor his commitment to hold genuinely free and transparent elections in early January, would that lead to an Islamist victory, or at least significant gains, as the Bush administration fears? Not at all.
Islamist parties had their best showing in the 2002 general elections, when they secured 11.1% of the vote and 53 out of 272 parliamentary seats -- a major gain over the pathetic three seats they won a decade before. But this gain was less serious than it seems. Most of the additional seats came not from Pakistan proper, but a few border provinces in the West that were experiencing a resurgence of anti-Americanism given their deep cross-border ties with the Taliban in Afghanistan. More crucially, however, Mr. Musharraf banned Ms. Bhutto and leaders of other secular parties from running, making it hard for these parties to secure a decent voter turnout. If free and fair elections were to be held today, Prof. Rizvi estimates secular parties would win handily, with the Islamists commanding no more than 5% of the national vote.
Islamist victory at the polls is not a real threat in Pakistan right now. The Bush administration should not allow that fear to deter it from applying maximum pressure on Mr. Musharraf to hold elections posthaste. The U.S. can, for instance, threaten to cut off Pakistan's supply of F-16 fighter jets and other nonterrorism-related aid.
India's example shows that even one vacation from democracy can be a huge setback for secularism. Yet another prolonged suspension of democracy will leave Pakistan few resources to beat back its Islamists. This is one instance where the Bush administration's avowed commitment to democracy is not just the more principled -- but also the more practical -- way of countering the threat of Islamic extremists.
Given that democracy-promotion is explicitly part of the Bush Doctrine, it is wholly unacceptable for Musharraf to suspend and interfere with Pakistani democracy. But it is even worse for the US to tolerate it, especially when the US seems to be gaining so little from Pakistan.