Pakistan’s dangerous slide, minus constitution

On Saturday, Nov. 3, embattled Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf put his country’s constitution on leave. In other words, the Pakistan constitution is now suspended and rule is by whim and diktat.

Supreme Court judges, including the chief justice, have been sacked; opposition politicians, human rights activists and lawyers have been arrested on trumped-up charges and independent media gagged.

Pakistan’s human rights commission boss Asma Jahangir says Musharraf has “lost his marbles.” He did a long time ago, if you ask me.

The government is inaccurately justifying the thuggish actions as constituting a state of emergency. It is the second coup against Pakistanis by their president, who blistered into power in a dramatic Oct. 1999 coup.

To vindicate his ill-advised actions, Musharraf says he does not want to see Pakistan commit suicide. Methinks he is softly, but quickly killing Pakistan and jeopardizing the war on terror.

By putting the constitution in abeyance, Musharraf achieved several things: foreclosed the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of his presidential win in the elections of Oct. 6 and thrown his opponents into disarray (albeit temporarily).

It is also a hedge he can use as leverage to compel continued support from the U.S.

The Musharraf’s stars changed color after 9/11. Pakistan not only abuts Afghanistan but also Iran. Fortunately for Musharraf, Iran is in the “axis of evil.” While Afghanistan, home of the Taliban, is assumed to be harboring Osama bin Laden and his loyalists.

The turn of events made Pakistan strategic in the war on terror and its president ingratiated himself with the U.S.

The war on terror needs Pakistan. If Osama and his band of bearded walking bombs are hiding in the rugged Pakistan-Afghanistan borders, the world is better off with order and predictability in Islamabad.

Musharraf obviously knows this and he is taking advantage to compel U.S support. However, a slide into more anarchy is the most likely result of Musharraf’s fiat. The country is now oozing with uncertainty and rebellion.

The country’s fringe in the northwest, bordering Afghanistan, (including north and south Waziristan and Mir-Ali) are playing ground for the Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathizers.

Growing opposition to Musharraf’s rule at home has reinvigorated the militants along the lawless border. Militancy thrives best in anarchy and this is what Musharraf is serving the militants by his stubbornness and ill-advised decisions.

Pashtuns, the majority in Afghanistan, occupy the lawless border belt. They are believed to be sympathetic to the Taliban, and their irredentist claims to some Pakistan territory isn’t any help.

The Pashtun, a people with a fancy martial heritage, also have an honor code (Pushtunwali) more precious than life itself.

They are fiercely tribal; Pashtuns first, Muslims second and then Afghans. The lawlessness of the frontier districts and the honor code makes it easy for militants to wander all over the region, including Iran and even Iraq.

According to a survey by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, Terror Free Tomorrow, Osama has a higher approval rating, at 46 percent, to Musharraf’s 38 percent in Pakistan.

Therein lies the danger of letting Pakistan slide into mire. Anarchic Pakistan is a price too high for the world to pay and it behooves the U.S. government to reverse the slide. After all, it knows Musharraf best, having helped prop him up.

Left to his own devices and delusions, Musharraf is so drunk with absolute power that he is oblivious of his actions’ implication to world security.

Judging from the muted response, the U.S. is obviously unhappy with the situation. Since 2001, the U.S. has extended approximately U.S. $11 billion in support to Pakistan. This has mainly gone to support the country’s military and in essence to entrench Musharraf.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has warned that the U.S. will no longer continue its approximate $150 million monthly support to Pakistan. In addition, U.S.-Pakistan defense talks, scheduled for today have been suspended.

Definitely, there is need to do more. The U.S. should consciously contain the excesses of Musharraf before the region melts into a conflagration.

One way could be to reorient U.S. funding to Pakistan. More of the cash should go into social and capital infrastructure, rather than in trendy weapons and gadgets.

Terrorism and militancy are products of poverty, economic exclusion and political frustration. Lack of good schools or effective health care systems, cyclical poverty and despondency are incubators for terrorism and militancy.

The U.S. should first aim to win the hearts and minds of Pakistanis and Afghans before cozying up to the Musharrafs of this world.