Fearing too much democracy

A few days ago, Mike posed the following question regarding Pakistan:

Is it possible to support the pro-democracy forces without risking the replacement of an autocratic but friendly regime with a fanatical hostile one?

My own initial reaction was that intense fear of that prospect, which Mike described as "terrifying," might often cause Americans to overestimate the actual risk. (Yes, John Edwards, I'm talking to you.) Now, over at Chapati Mystery, our colleague Sepoy goes a step further, arguing not simply that it is possible to support the pro-democracy forces without that feared outcome materializing, but that doing so in fact offers the best hope of avoiding it. His essay offers some useful background on the current standoff in Islamabad at the Lal Masjid (and in particular, its roots in the Islamization policies implemented during the 1980s by the last military dictator in Pakistan supported by the United States, General Zia ul Haq). The full post is well worth the read, but here's the punch line:

The strengthening of miltant forces in Pakistan - and their inward gaze - has not come from any radicalization of Pakistani society but from the incomplete operation of US forces in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq drained away any plan for a viable and functioning Afghanistan. The defeated troops carried their tribal allegiances back across the border into the Northern and Western regions of Pakistan - and turned their attention onto Pakistani state. Musharraf, busy consolidating the military’s dominion had no viable way of combating these tribes - he has no legitimacy. I could be writing an alternative version of this recent past, if democratic tendencies had actually been allowed to develop in Pakistan since 2001. You may call it ‘paradoxical’ but the only solution to de-Islamization of Pakistan is democracy - not the support of dictatorships.

* * *

While many western observers praise Musharraf’s brave decision to side with the United States, the truth is that it was a no-brainer for him. The majority of Pakistan’s population has long maintained a healthy distaste for the involvement of religious leaders into statecraft - taking perhaps as axiomatic Bulleh Shah’s old verse: Mulla tay mashaalchi dohaan ikko chiz / Loukan karday chananan, aap anhairae vich [The Cleric and the Light Bearer are both the same / Trying to illuminate others, but in darkness themselves]. The outpouring of support for the Chief Justice is just one indication that the country is hungry for relief - note, please note, that Chaudhry Iftikhar is not some bearded mullah with any agenda for Shari’ah implementation in Pakistan. And yet, that old canard is forever being bandied about that if given democracy, the insane mullahs will control Pakistan. The choice has never been between Musharraf and the Mullah or the Mosque and the Ballot. The truth is that there never has been any choice. And the Pakistani public demand a choice. And they can be trusted to make the right decision just as much as any other citizen in any other democracy in any nation of this world [cf. 2000 and 2004, United States of America.] [link]

Pakistani military analyst Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, author of the recent book "Military, Inc.," offers a related perspective here.

(Oh, and that photo at the top of the post? It's not from yet another stop on the Chaudhry yatra, but rather from a 100,000 person rally in Karachi against the Lal Masjid clerics back in April.)