Pakistan is Turning on Musharraf

Pakistan’s embattled President Pervez Musharraf is touring European capitals to try and convince Western governments of the country’s stability, and his own good intentions. He should instead face the evaporation of support for his authoritarian regime at home.

Opinion polls show that 68% of Pakistanis want Mr. Musharraf to step down immediately. While he was in Davos, Switzerland, this week for the World Economic Forum, 100 retired senior military officers signed a statement in Pakistan describing him as an embarrassment to the powerful military that has so far been his power base. Western governments should no longer accept Mr. Musharraf’s sales pitch that he is a valuable ally in the war against terrorism. A ruler widely hated by his own people is unlikely to be effective in defeating the expanding insurgency waged by al Qaeda’s Taliban allies.

Pakistanis are increasingly uniting in their disapproval of Mr. Musharraf, and of the civil-military oligarchy he represents. The first opinion poll after Benazir Bhutto’s murder showed that nearly half of the sample suspected government agencies and government-allied politicians of killing the opposition leader. Mr. Musharraf’s unpopular domestic policies helped al Qaeda get a free pass in an assassination widely mourned throughout the country.

Mr. Musharraf must recognize the widening gulf between state and society, and address its ramifications. If he does not, his Western backers, especially British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (whom he meets on Monday) and President George W. Bush, must make him realize that his policies are undermining the war against terror.

Mr. Musharraf could end the controversy about Ms. Bhutto’s death by accepting an international inquiry under the aegis of the U.N., as demanded by Pakistan’s opposition as well as several U.S. senators from both parties. But he insists that as long as he knows the truth, there is no need for an independent investigation.

Yesterday, Mr. Musharraf told the BBC that he would leave power when he is convinced the people of Pakistan want him to quit. But it would only be based on his “feeling” and personal knowledge, not the results of an election, opinion poll or any other mechanism that would determine when the people no longer support him.

Pakistan’s armed forces have suffered a loss of reputation because Mr. Musharraf mired them in politics. In an attempt to forestall an expected electoral victory by Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party in polls scheduled for Feb. 18, Mr. Musharraf recently claimed that Ms. Bhutto was very unpopular with the military. The new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, says he wants to restore harmony between the army and the people. But Mr. Musharraf is making his task difficult by creating the perception of the military favoring or opposing a specific political faction or leader.

Mr. Musharraf wants the world to simply take his word that the polls would be free and transparent. But in a recent report, the independent Pakistani Citizens Group on Electoral Process has termed the pre-poll electoral process in Pakistan highly unfair, giving it a score of 26 on a scale of 100 for overall fairness of the pre-poll environment spanning the previous 12 months. The U.S. National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, as well as the European International Crisis Group, have also identified several factors they say make honest elections unlikely. Since Mr. Musharraf’s decision to “fire” senior Supreme Court judges, the judiciary is not free to pronounce on the fairness of the election.

Mr. Musharraf rules with the help of intelligence services that have a track record of supporting extremist jihadists. The security apparatus has also tortured, blackmailed, pressured or undermined too many civilian politicians, journalists and civil society activists to be a credible protector of the state. Most Pakistanis now know about the covert machinations of an all-powerful intelligence community, which fixes elections, divides parties and buys off politicians at will.

Pakistan needs a compromise that will stop the demonization of politicians by the military, restore the military’s prestige and end its political role, limit the intelligence agencies to external security functions, and form a government that unites the Pakistani nation against terrorism and disintegration. Only a Pakistan that is run according to its constitution would have non-violent means of resolving its many disputes. An independent judiciary and a free media would then be the guardians against abuse of power by elected officials. A free and fair election, open to international observers and conducted by an independent election commission, could be a remedy for Pakistan’s domestic conflict.

Mr. Musharraf can become part of this compromise, salvage some respect, and agree to a free and fair election. Or he could remain the major wound that must be dealt with before Pakistan’s healing can begin.

Mr. Haqqani, professor of international relations at Boston University, was co-chair of the Hudson Institute’s Project on Islam and Democracy and author of “Pakistan Between Mosque and Military,” (Carnegie Endowment, 2005). He was an adviser to Benazir Bhutto

Article was published in Wall Street Journal on January 25, 2008