Pakistan: The Mosque and the Ballot
Manan Ahmed writes in The Informed Comment Global Affairs:
Just a few weeks ago, General Pervez Musharraf’s regime seemed in severe trouble. Chief Justice Chaudhry had strangely emerged as a popular hero inspiring the country after his summary dismissal by the Musharraf. Lawyers were rioting all across Pakistan’s major cities. The state’s crackdown on media had backfired. NYT, WaPo, WSJ had all put out editorials questioning Musharraf’s rule and US support of it. The extensive electricity outages in Karachi and the lack of federal response to the heavy monsoon rains which caused hundreds of deaths in Sindh and Baluchistan had further deteriorated any remaining support for Musharraf. More and more, this General was resembling that old General Yahya and the end-game seemed in sight.
How quickly things change. The Lal Masjid seige/showdown is now front-page news everywhere. The photographs of Army helicopters hovering silently behind the mosque’s great white dome surely caused frisson of excitement to those accustomed to the way the War on Terror is being fought across Iraq. After all, those burka-clad shaolin seminarians with their bamboo lathis and the young men with their faces wrapped and their automatics raised are all simple enough signifiers for the Great Islamic Threat ®. Soon enough the editorials will change their tone. The White House will stand and acclaim the tough job Musharraf is doing to curtail the Talibanization of Islamabad. Fareed Zakaria will declare some other inanity like “Pakistan is an army with a state in a box containing an angry mullah sitting on a nuke with the evil-but-ok-maybe-not Musharraf trying to hammer the box shut” and the intelligentsia will sigh in relief. The Pakistani TV programs that I watched yesterday were all filled with how this latest showdown is playing out in US and how will it affect policy – the panopticon of American neo-Imperialism is never far from the minds of Pakistani punditry. Even the print press, long critical of Musharraf’s overreaches, is willing to forgive Musharraf’s sins if he can save the country. As an aside, just let me point out that even this small fact, that the Press is proclaiming a dictator for standing up to radicalization of their society, upends the conventional wisdom that Pakistan teeters forever on the brink of an Islamic Revolution.