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Musharraf and his Labyrinth

Prepared by: Michael Moran, and Maggie Goodlander
Updated: July 19, 2007

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As the Pakistani government scrambles to salvage a peace accord (BosGlobe) with tribal leaders along the country’s lawless northwest frontier, unrest elsewhere in Pakistan has raised new questions about the stability of Pervez Musharraf’s military government. The ten-month-old truce, known as the Miramshah Agreement, was viewed at the beginning by some critics as a capitulation (ABC) after Pakistani troops suffered heavy casualties in trying to impose order on the region. This CFR.org Interactive Map looks at the historically ungovernable region.

The Miramshah agreement compelled Pakistan to withdraw troops from the region, a stronghold of Pakistan’s Taliban as well as the most likely location of al-Qaeda’s leadership. In theory, Musharraf and Bush administration officials argue the truce would convert the prickly tribal chieftains, whose long history of resistance to central government rule is detailed in this Backgrounder, into allies against radical Islamists. In fact, as a new National Intelligence Estimate, makes clear, al-Qaeda and its allies instead have thrived in the vacuum (LAT).

The new U.S. intelligence assessment can only add to the general’s labyrinthine woes. The Dawn, an influential Pakistani newspaper, opines that Musharraf’s problems in facing down violence range from public perception to “the inability of President Musharraf to find the right political allies to support [his actions]. No matter what the President says about the anti-terrorism policy being home-grown, most people in the country believe whatever action he is taking is under American pressure.” Washington has, indeed, demanded action. Since 2001, the United States has provided at least $10 billion in military and civilian funding, and as CFR South Asia Fellow Daniel Markey notes, the Bush administration wants to add another $785 million to the 2008 budget (IHT). Following the NIE’s publication, U.S. officials broke ranks with Pakistan on the value of the tribal policy, with Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, suggesting it was time for Pakistan’s army to step in again (WashTimes).

But deeper questions about the heavy U.S. reliance on Pakistan’s general swirl in Washington. At contentious hearings (PDF) in March at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, some lawmakers concluded the general should allow a genuine election—one in which he would not be a candidate. But George Perkovich from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues against casting democracy as a silver bullet in Pakistan or elsewhere. “'People on the right and the left will say: 'You're just going to repeat the same mistake as Iraq’” (NYT). Markey makes a similar case in a recent Foreign Affairs article. The NIE also provides fuel for those who regard the Iraq war as a distraction from the fight against those behind 9/11, assertsNewsweek's Michael Hirsh.

Meanwhile, Musharraf’s problems domestically loom ever larger. Beyond the militant Islamist challenge along the Afghan border, a recent spate of violence has shaken Pakistan’s cities, including the highly publicized standoff between Pakistani troops and Islamist militants at Islamabad’s Red Mosque (NYT). More generally, Musharraf has drawn criticism from both sides of the country’s polarized political spectrum, especially over his decision to suspend Pakistan’s Supreme Court Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry. In apodcast, CFR Fellow Manjeet Kripalani explores the motives behind that decision.

This Backgrounder examines how some experts believe Pakistan may look after Musharraf leaves the stage. Frederick Grare, another Carnegie expert,says in a recent analysis there cannot be a meaningful change to a system that hosts and nurtures jihadists “without the end of military domination of Pakistan.”

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