A story in today's Post details the current troubles being experienced by our "ally" and military dictator, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. As you can imagine, my sympathy runs very low for the leader of a government that doesn't permit elections and enforces sharia law against the women of his country (readers will recall my March 3rd post where I discussed the state-mandated gang rape of a young woman for an offence her brother committed).
The imbroglio surrounding Musharraf intensified with his dismissal of the country's top judge on a whim. You see, dictators have the ability to make a mockery of institutionalized checks & balances and the rule of law in that fashion. He's also dispatched police officers to rough up the judge when on his way to court hearings to determine the legality of Musharraf's action and whether the judge can be fired (given that Musharraf has already installed a replacement, you can imagine how this will all end), and has been leaning on the Pakistani media to ease up on the anti-Musharraf stories in the newspapers.
Which brings us to the broader global problem: the United States has invested a lot in Musharraf to assist them during the War on Terror & Tyranny, to the tune of $10B in the past 5 years. If the concept of sending such funding to a tyrant to advance American aims sounds awfully Cold War-ish to you, you're not alone. It is exactly this type of alliance that undermines American calls for the rise and establishment of democratic rule of law societies around the world. It's fantastic that Pakistan has been helpful in rounding up some al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists--but not all of them and not all of the time--but the benefit gained from that does not cancel out the country's deficiencies in transparency, democracy, liberty, and the rule of law.
The problem in all of this is that if Musharraf is ousted, we don't know who he would be replaced with. Many in Pakistan do not support Musharraf's siding with the United States, and there is a significant level of Islamist fundamentalist sentiment. Many support, silently or otherwise, al Qaeda, and Pakistan was one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan during their brutal tyranny over the country. It is entirely possible that he could be replaced with the Pakistani equivalent of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, which would actually be worse than Ahmedinejad because Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. We know that top Pakistani nuclear scientists have already been arrested for attempting to sell nuclear know-how to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
This is where cold realism thrives. Musharraf is odious to the values we seek to advance in the world, but he's less bad than several potential alternatives that would impose strict(er) Islamic law, deny rights even more than presently, and openly support al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal makes it a country of great strategic importance, within the region and globally. American cash has worked to keep the extremists in line and somewhat mollify opponents of Musharraf's US partnership. Any shift in Pakistan could have severely negative effects in Afghanistan, the initial front of the War on Terror and arguably the greatest success to emerge from the American-led policy of regime change. These are not considerations that can be discarded simply to support democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. But that doesn't mean we should necessarily shed any tears for the "beginning of the end" for Musharraf.
*Note: this post almost got lost by GooBlogger's gremlins. I blame the snow.