Friday, November 30, 2007

The Storm Clouds Begin to Break in Pakistan... Revealing More of the Same

Much to my surprise, Musharraf has followed through on his promise to step down from his position as head of the military, ending 8 years of military rule.

He is promising an end to emergency rule by the 16th of December. 3 weeks later, he says he plans to hold democratic parliamentary elections, "by the constitution."

Unfortunately, this won't be enough to appease much of his opposition into playing nice. Sharif is still calling for his party to boycott parliamentary elections. While I think such action is numbingly unwise (Sunni boycotts of parliamentary elections in 2004 left them without representatives in a parliament that chugged on without them; the boycott is blamed as one of the reasons anti-Shiite violence exploded in that year, and is a point of regret for many Sunnis that have since decided to work with the government), it could derail the legitimacy of a government that is already standing on shaky legs. While Sharif's political frustration is understandable, my primary concern in Pakistan is its ability to provide internal security, and the robustness of its government against extremist incursion.

Pakistan is still probably the front line in the war on terror. American front pages may not be carrying much about Waziristan, but it is currently largely under Taliban occupation (this after many elements of the Taliban fled from Tora Bora in early 2002), and Musharraf seems to have stepped up attacks against the region during Pakistan's Emergency Rule... but to questionable effect. The Taliban is trying to establish Islamic rule in the area (and probably spread it from there). But don't worry--we know how well that's working for our friends in Sudan.

I'm still not sure how the Waziristan problem can be put down for good. US airstrike-supported large-scale attacks by Pakistan's capable army could have even greater success than NATO's Afghani attacks in 2001 and 2002--the Pakistani army knows the Waziristan region better than NATO knew Afghanistan, and if the Taliban were to try and flee, they would escape into the rifles of waiting Canadian troops. I'm not sure why this option hasn't been played out, except perhaps for the political instability of the government and the stationing of so many troops in India.

Musharraf has a long way to go before Pakistan's political situation is secure. He will have to convince some of his toughest opponents to participate in parliamentary elections this January--but if his power-holding deal with pro-American Bhutto works out, they may be able to unite a large majority in Pakistan that will bring the government the stability it needs to deal with the Taliban once and for all.