The only way to explain why the US and its allies do not abandon a leader who is less popular with his people than the terrorist whom he is being paid billions to hunt is that the people of Pakistan are considered irrelevant in discussions about Pakistan.
At about every 20-year interval, the west has given its blessings to the military in Pakistan to usurp the writ of state. He, upon taking power, falls prostrate in our direction, vigorously rubbing our feet.
First, in the 1960s Pakistan was turned servile as a way to counter India's Marxist lean; then in the 1980s it was turned into our mercenary to serve as a launching paid for our proxy war against the Soviets; and now with Musharraf, Pakistan is our maid, tasked with scraping human scum out of intractable mountains. With each dictator we have given a Machiavellian middle finger to the people of Pakistan - to their right of self-determination - and said to them that Uncle Sam, in conjugal relations with Mother Military, know best.
Yet, if we do know best, why do our tyrannical experiments consistently turn tragic? Our first dictator helped tear Pakistan into two, driving Pakistan into the arms of a maniacal socialist demagogue who started not just the nuclear programme but as the Ahmadis can testify, started Islamisation.
The current tyrant, meanwhile, is not only less popular than Bin Laden, but he is completely inept in counteracting terrorism. He has: failed to reform the madrassas; cultivated a Kangaroo Sharia court in his backyard for six months which he could use for political benefit; killed those that kept the Taliban at bay; considered appeasing the militants by letting them implement Sharia; turned Pakistan into a state sponsor of terrorism; made alliances with pro-Taliban parties; and even engaged in what are being called crimes against humanity. My editor at Jewcy reminded me that Musharraf is so frightening to terrorists that al-Qaida mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammad literally lived within 10 miles of him. This is the man that John Negroponte at the State Department considers "indispensable."
Dictators are incapable of eliminating extremism. A dictatorship is afflicted with the original sin of having seized power with violence, and therefore has no moral authority to speak against those who employ violence. A dictatorship is bereft of the psychological calm that comes from being popularly elected and lives life like an anxious little demon, spraying bullets wildly, without aim or purpose.
Furthermore, a dictator that must pander to western democracies is caught in an Orwellian double-think because he has no way of reconciling why he denies to his own people the freedom that his allies and masters deem to be self-evident for their own populace - unless, of course, he values the lives of his own people less than the lives of his western allies. The only thing a dictator can do to resolve this tension is to create the illusion of freedom. A new subterranean world arises into which torture, disappearances and dirty hands, are swept. The dictator, hiding his own failures in order to create the chimera of freedom, harps on the corruption of the previous leaders, which is not wrong factually, but wrong logically. He does not realise that the only reason anyone is aware of the faults of predecessors at all is because they were not dictators.
There is an insanity in supporting Musharraf. His western backers are Cornelius, pouring a poison called Musharraf into the ear of Pakistani civil society, creating the conditions for the Pakistani public turning into a deranged Hamlet, brooding menacingly in a dark South Asian corridor, slowly going mad, until one day he ushers in a carnival of blood and murder.
That murder, unless remedial steps are taken now, will be in the form of an Islamic revolution like the one in Iran. Intelligent minds have already started to point out the "eerie similarity" between the state of Musharraf now and the Shah in the 1970s.
In Iran a broad coalition of liberal democrats, lawyers, professionals, students, teachers, leftists and radicals, coalesced - slowly over the span of many years - in the figure of Khomeini. If we continue to insist on backing Musharraf, the same will happen in Pakistan, and a Sunni Khomeini will rise from northern Pakistan. Already, merely 18% of Pakistanis care to fight terrorists; and 49% of them approve of homegrown extremist groups, meaning that fierce radicals are becoming acceptable. There are already people waxing romantic about those resisting Musharraf with guns. These opinions are Musharraf's fault. His ineptitude and mostly his illegitimacy.
If a revolutionary Iran-style coalition forms, the Pakistani military will neither be able to - nor willing to - stand up against it, because in the past every time a Pakistani leader has asked the military to crush street protests, the military has refused. Thus, when this haphazard coalition does take to the streets and the military stands down, the bloodbath will begin, reminiscent of years 1979 to 1980 in Iran. The Islamist maniacs will quickly slaughter all opposition, exile every secular person, and sit pretty, bordering the Iranian regime on one side, shoveling billions into a Kashmiri insurgency against India, and backing the Taliban take over of Afghanistan. The nukes are safe as long as they are in military hands, but if the Islamists run the military, then the nukes will suddenly be referred to as The Islamic Bomb and no one will be safe. Someone check out the range of the Ghauri III.
This turn of events will not occur if Musharraf gives way to democracy right now. It will occur, however, if Musharraf is allowed to remain in place.
The time for sanity to prevail is now. Pakistanis consider free elections and an independent judiciary their number one priority. One of their popular leaders - the only one not in jail -- has made a call for street protests. If the other leaders were allowed out of their homes, they would mimic the call. Yet, while being aware of this Bush refuses to abandon Musharraf.
Bush did call Musharraf for 20 minutes yesterday. However, to suggest to thinking people that this call is anything more than a cute PR stunt is downright insulting when, after talking to Bush, Musharraf went to the parliament and stated that he is not "under dictation" from the US and there is "no specific time frame for holding elections."
Not only that, but even if Musharraf moves forward with elections at this point, the military expert Aysha Siddiqa notes, they will be structurally organised to benefit his own party, the PML-Q.
Furthermore, without reinstatement of the independent Supreme Court that Musharraf has so brazenly removed and replaced with a new one, any challenge to the legitimacy of the elections would not stand up anyway, meaning that Bush is giving a thumbs up to rigged elections. Bush needs to do more than just to let Musharraf provide the definition of what constitutes free and fair. Further, to really put some insecurity in Musharraf's belly, Bush and his officials should meet with Mullah Diesel, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, and any other Pakistani opposition figure who wants to fly over.
The way things are right now, Bush and Condi's weakly wagging fingers are designed to give Musharraf the cover to carry on just as he is. After all, one of Pakistan's leading journalists, Hamid Mir, did say that according to his sources the US embassy gave Musharraf the green light for calling the emergency. Such complicity suggests that Bush simply has no idea whether Musharraf's dictatorial soliloquy is of lucidity or stupidity. Sounds a lot like what Cornelius thought of Hamlet for five acts. We all know how that ended.
Ali Eteraz is a writer and activist. He has worked in international finance and human rights law. During law school he worked on litigation against US contractors involved in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and then represented plaintiffs defrauded by Wall Street.
© 2007 The Guardian