At Large

Pakistan Polka

What's the rest of the story?

By 11.8.07

Send to Kindle

To most Americans the recent declaration of "emergency rules" -- a form of martial law -- in Pakistan may not seem much different from what previously existed. The head of the Supreme Court is placed under house arrest and the court is disbanded. Hundreds of rock throwing, dark suited lawyers take to the streets and are clubbed into submission by police or simply dragged off to jail. Not much new, you might say. Didn't we see this just a few months ago?

Nobody seeks to ask why these normally extravagantly courteous, legally preoccupied attorneys would want to turn themselves into a fighting mob. Surely these worthy gentlemen know enough about politics so as to be able to organize Pakistani street gangs to go out and battle the cops. What does it take to start a riot in Islamabad? Certainly not a bunch of lawyers and law students.

What's the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey might say? First, the judges and lawyers firmly believe that their role as arbiters of justice has been usurped by the Musharraf government. In China it's known as "breaking one's rice bowl." But this is not only an economic action, it's an assault on the Pakistani legal profession's political status. The government justifies its crackdown by claiming the courts have been releasing known terrorists. This had to be challenged, said their ambassador in Washington.

Next is tradition. Politics in Pakistan has been rife with corruption for many years. The administrations of both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were clearly corrupt and mismanaged. This was what brought the army into coup mode in the first place. Furthermore, the same sequence of governments being replaced through military action had existed in previous decades. The problem always has been that after cleaning out the original mess, the military would succumb to the enticement of power and fall into the same ethical traps.

Beyond the lure of personal material gain at all levels of Pakistani politics is the equally alluring attraction of simple power. Leadership in Pakistan comes with all the trappings of feudal dominance culturally and historically appropriate to South Asia. And this affects whoever is in control, be it military or civilian.

The Musharraf-led military is charged with being deeply involved in business operations. The President/General hasn't been tainted personally by the usual official graft, but there appears to have been a substantial growth of ownership of private industry and commerce by ranking army officers, their families and friends. Interestingly, this matter has been under only marginal attack by the opposition; it seems to be treated with a sense of inevitability.

THE ELEMENT, HOWEVER, THAT MOST IMPACTS and influences Pakistani civilian and military life no matter who is in power is the internal intelligence structure. Multiple layers of intelligence organization and operation exist throughout the country on the local, provincial and national level. There is military intelligence, counter-intelligence, domestic civilian intelligence, police intelligence, foreign intelligence -- just about every form of intelligence gathering possible.

The principal intelligence coordinating structure, Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), was said to have cooperated covertly with the several jihadi groups operating within Pakistan. General Musharraf has been credited with cleaning out the most egregious of these covert connections, but nonetheless even he has had to turn a blind eye to some of the dealings of the intel services with the Taliban and border tribal leadership.

The "democracy" that the street crowds and main political parties are seeking to bring into being still will require the maintenance of Pakistan's large army and intelligence/security structure. The control over the nation's nuclear weapon arsenal will remain essentially in the same hands. The system of payoffs on the local and national level will be changed -- but only in terms of who, what, and where. And, in any case, the religious radicals will continue to have to be considered, dealt with and, in many instances, catered to.

The best that the United States can hope for is an effective power sharing arrangement between Benazir Bhutto and the military and intelligence leadership. Pervez Musharraf still has the leverage, for the moment, to make that happen. He knows, however, that he, too, can be replaced by another dynamic military personality. That's the way it happens in Pakistan.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.