Thursday, July 05, 2007

Of Revolutions, Then and Now

During the period of July 4 -14, it seems appropriate to reflect on an all-too-common pattern followed by popular revolutions against rotten regimes: after the old regime is toppled, the various factions that overthrew it begin to fight among themselves, often with the least democratic faction prevailing. That is certainly how things played out in the French, Russian and Iranian revolutions, with the American revolution of 1776 standing as a rare exception. How to prevent this path is of more than theoretical interest now that nuclear-armed Pakistan appears to be under siege from several sides: tribal revolts in the hinterlands, an Islamist challenge in Islamabad (and elsewhere), and a movement for democracy and the rule of law among those who rightly object to the regime's treatment of the judiciary. Is it possible to support the pro-democracy forces without risking the replacement of an autocratic but friendly regime with a fanatical hostile one?

The Bush administration pretty clearly thinks not and is thus, as documented here in prior posts by Anil Kalhan, supporting Pervez Musharraf to the hilt. There is a conspiracy theory floating about that Musharraf has manufactured the Red Mosque crisis to quiet any Western criticism of his handling of the Chaudhry issue by reminding us here that, well, apres Musharraf, le deluge. But even if the immediate crisis is manufactured, the risk of an Islamist government coming to power in Pakistan should Musharraf fall---or even should he peaceably step aside for free elections---is real and terrifying.

Nonetheless, the U.S. track record of backing friendly autocrats to stave off unfriendly totalitarians (whether Communist or Islamist) is not good. The friendly autocrats tend to lose power anyway, and the resulting regime then has one more reason to hate us. I'm not suggesting that U.S. foreign policy should have, as an official aim, the removal of Musharraf. I am suggesting that we might want to moderate our support for him and that all of our foreign policy options here are very risky. This would be a hard job even for a competent administration.

11 comments:

heathu said...

After the first paragraph, this entry could have just as easily segued into the situation in Iraq instead of Pakistan. We toppled the old regime, but we are losing the ability and political will to prevent undemocratic forces from taking power.

Anil Kalhan said...

But even if the immediate crisis is manufactured, the risk of an Islamist government coming to power in Pakistan should Musharraf fall---or even should he peaceably step aside for free elections---is real and terrifying.

Not that we should dismiss this possibility completely out of hand, for the situation in Pakistan is certainly a complicated one. But I think that many of us in the United States dramatically overstate this risk:

This fear of nuclear-armed mullahs has played a motivating role in American policy toward Pakistan since Sept. 11, experts say. It has led the Bush administration to back a military ruler seen to be strong and supportive of American interests, despite the fact that he overthrew a democratically elected government.

Yet on the ground in Pakistan – and increasingly in the halls of Washington – this fear is seen to be specious. The trends of past election returns, combined with the strength of the largely secular military, suggest that it is extremely unlikely that religious extremists could ever come to power in Pakistan.

"It's hogwash," says Seth Jones, an antiterror analyst at the RAND Corp., a strategic consultancy in Arlington, Va.
[link]

In fact, we may be getting things backwards, given the role of the army in using and at times building up the religious political parties in Pakistan for its own purposes. Have a look also here and here.

egarber said...

In fact, we may be getting things backwards, given the role of the army in using and at times building up the religious political parties in Pakistan for its own purposes.


During the effort to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan, the U.S. blindly sent funds to Pakistani intelligence, not really knowing exactly where they went. Back then, it was simply enough that we knew it was a counterweight to Soviet influence.

In the end, ISI sought a strategic alliance with the Taliban. So we have already been taught a big lesson about where our support might end up when we partner with those who ostensibly share our goals.

Garth said...

i've often speculated that the uniqueness of the American Revolution lay mostly in the fact that it was less a popular uprising against King George than a revolt of rich, educated folk that wanted to run things for themselves.

their genius lay in the thought that they brought to crafting the constitution they were going to use to run things. a team of lawyers checking and balancing so that no one gets the upper hand and can run the show. a shrewd blending of education, shared and self interest.

the iranians could have pulled it off at one time, maybe they still can... but we are lot more destabilizing than the british.

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