Pervez Musharraf won the most recent presidential elections in Pakistan, by a landslide. I don’t understand it, especially after banging heads with the judiciary of Pakistan and attempting to remove the head justice this past summer, which triggered mass protests that were subsequently tear-gassed and put down by policy, where protestors were arrested. The Pakistani Supreme Court has yet to decide if he was even a legitimate candidate in the first place, due to controversy over the legality of the elections.
I don’t know if the Court will ever be able to rule against the President, however. There is no viable candidacy, outside of the military, that has established itself well enough to prove that it can rule, thanks to the regime’s ability to sweep out all opposition. And more importantly, a leadership that is likely to be sympathetic to American interests and the war on terror. Musharraf has survived numerous assassination attempts by extremists who see him as part of the near enemy: a corrupt leadership that is disloyal to the pure vision of Islam and collaborates with the enemy, i.e. the West.
In fact, Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown made some subtle hints that his government had something to do with the political pact between Musharraf and Benzir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan that was overthrown by the current military regime.
He has stepped down as the military commander, however. You could argue that this is a step in the right direction. Or you argue that the appointment of Kiyani, a long-time crony and head of the intelligence, as the head of the military is little more than a cosmetic change. A promotion, if you will. I myself tend to go with the latter judgment.
As much as I think that democracy in an unfiltered, untainted setting would be the best option for the Pakistani people, I don’t want another Hamas in Islamabad. And you might ask: where did all the moderate parties go? The ones in between? Musharraf probably knows. Perhaps the very reason that he has rooted out all opposition, including any moderate ones, is to present him and his regime as the only viable option in an unstable time in history. Consider yourself choosing between two vehicles: a 1998 Jeep Cherokee, and a 2008 newly released US Smart car. The Jeep may rattle on the highway, may break down at times, but you know how to get it working again. You’ve gotten used to it, despite its inefficiencies. The Smart car, on the other hand, “challenges the status quo”, but can be a little too passionate and sure of itself. It also comes in a limited edition only and its spare parts are hard to find. In the end, however, the choice comes down to the safe and the complacence it fosters vs. the new and the ingenuity to create better alternatives.
And when it comes to democracy in the Middle East, Pakistan isn’t the only country that’s picking the first option. And the United States isn’t going to complain. But the Middle Man, the moderate secular party — that probably represents the majority of Pakistanis — is nowhere to be found. The 2005 Honda Civic, if you will, has vanished off the used car market. The vehicle that is used by many and approved by all, the vehicle that can propel the society forward. One of these days, Musharraf needs to take a ride in one of those Honda Civics, and look for the missing Middle Man.