Is Pakistan another Iran?
Associate since 1991
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October 11, 2007
LONDON - Could Pakistan go the way of Iran, as it did with the overthrow of the modernising Shah in 1979 and the recall from exile in Paris of Ayatollah Khomeini who ushered in an Islamic revolution that overturned the secular order and moved the country into a paranoid state that feared American intervention unless it developed its nuclear defences? Zbigniew Brzezinki, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor and today the eminent grise on foreign policy in the Democratic Party, seems to think so.
As one of the architect’s of Carter’s muddled policy towards the Shah and a senior member of the administration, which was voted out of office mainly because of the debacle over Iran, his insights should be observant and refreshing. They are not.
“When the challenge to the Shah arose we procrastinated too long”, he told me late last month, “I think we should have fished or cut bait more quickly, either making a clear choice to support the Shah in some effort to repress the opposition, to prevent Khomeini from coming back. And then later on embarking on the road to reforms. Or alternatively we could have dumped the Shah very quickly. …. I favoured the former course. Others the latter. The combination of the two was not very productive.
We face the same dilemma right now in Pakistan. We don’t like military dictatorships but are we sure that populism perhaps tinged with Islamic fanaticism will be better? Is it going to be possible to have dual power in Pakistan between President Musharraf and a Prime Minister Bhutto, or is it going to be the first phase of a show down between them that may produce a totally unpredictable Pakistan? I must say I don’t envy the dilemmas the present [American] decision makers confront.”
But both the past tense and the present tense are different in Pakistan and Iran. As Brzezinski is the first to acknowledge Iran has deep reasons for being anti-American. In his opinion it goes back long before the seizure of the American diplomatic mission as hostages in 1979 which launched the U.S. into a bitter confrontational vendetta that has lasted nearly thirty years. “It was related to a problem that at the time was not well understood in the U.S. - the legacy of the American overthrow of Mosadeq in the 1950s. After we overthrew him we stepped in there on a large scale…We became the beneficiaries of the oil bounty……It was then that the U.S. embarked on a course that led overtime to a collision with rising Iranian nationalism.”
But what reason does Pakistan have for being anti-American? There is nothing comparably deep in the Pakistani psyche. American has long been Pakistan’s sugar daddy supplying everything from economic aid, to earthquake relief to the most modern jet fighters. Pakistan acquired its nuclear bomb, not to ward off America, but its neighbour India. Of course there is a lot of anti-Americanism in Pakistan. Much of it is of the de rigueur Third World kind. And it has been stirred by the American war in Afghanistan, which has turned Pakistan into an American base. Yet it doesn’t have that bitter quality that one finds in Iran.
Pakistan was for 200 years part of British India. The Pakistan elite, both civilian and military, is infused with British values of justice and fairplay that, although sometimes clashing with the instincts of Islamic priorities, never quite lose out. Hence even in the time of Musharraf’s dictatorship the Supreme Court has shown an impressive degree of independence. Moreover, when there are fair elections the religious parties never gain more than 10% of the vote and often much less. Most of Pakistan is concentrating on its increasingly visible economic success.
It is understandable that Washington while not wanting to lose Musharraf, who has fulfilled much of America’s post 9/11 agenda, does feel that to be true to its pro democracy rhetoric it has to support a comeback for the exiled leaders of the two principal democratic parties. Yet the choice is by no means as difficult as it was when Carter and Brzezinski confronted the Shah issue. If Musharraf stays in solitary power he will not have to be ultra repressive as the Shah was. If he has to face an open electorate and then work in harness with Benazir Bhutto, it will not be the end of him - Musharraf remains fairly popular, and for many good and sound reasons. He is not corrupt, as his democratic predecessors were and on many social issues he has been more liberal then they were in office. Unlike the Shah, he is not at war with a united clergy. Not least, he still offers the object of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, India, the best peace deal over Kashmir it is ever likely to get.
Copyright © 2007 Jonathan
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