Our Man in Pakistan?
By Ed Husain for The Council on Foreign Relations
His close proximity to former U.S. president George W. Bush earned him the popular moniker, “Busharraf.” So it was with some intrigue that I went to hear Pakistan’s former president, Pervez Musharraf, address a prestigious and influential U.S. audience at a packed meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations’ headquarters in New York this week.
I was struck by what was, essentially, his appeal for U.S. political sponsorship of his bid to contest elections in Pakistan next year. He spoke eloquently about the poor state of U.S.-Pakistan relations, the need for a peace settlement with elements of the Taliban, and his country’s—and his own—unhelpful Machiavellian attitude toward India and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the following facts left me worried:
First, for a man who prosecuted the war on terror with such vigor, it was unforgivable for him to say to an Indian journalist who asked about Pakistan’s export of terrorism, ‘Sir, your terrorist is someone else’s freedom fighter.” This moral equivocation is the same justification used by terrorists to inflict harm on innocent lives around the world. Musharraf should know better.
Second, a major cause for widespread, ongoing anti-American radicalization in Pakistan is the CIA-led drone attacks in the country’s tribal regions. Musharraf did not make any references to the drones, their many innocent victims, and the perceived violation of Pakistani sovereignty. It would have been wiser to reassure the audience that a Pakistan under his control would be a nation in which the United States would not need to use drones because terrorists would be brought to justice. Ignoring the issue of drones is self-defeating all around.
Third, his confidence that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal is safe is questionable. The premise of his assurance was that extremists seeking access to these weapons would need to fight elite battalions of the Pakistani armed forces. The assumption there, of course, is that the Pakistani army is immune from extremism. Sadly, that thinking is flawed. Since General Zia’s time, and increasingly so in recent years, Islamist radicalization within Pakistan’s armed forces has been a cause for concern.
It wasn’t all bad. Fortunately, he spoke somewhat candidly about the economic and energy generation challenges faced by Pakistan. My colleague Isobel Coleman, who was also in attendance, has analyzed his remarks on her thoughtful blog, “Democracy in Development.”
With Imran Khan and Pervez Musharraf both gearing up for elections in Pakistan in 2013, the next two years will be eventful and heated in Pakistan’s fractious political landscape.