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Sordid dance to a dead end with the devil we need

IT might be called the dictator's ultimatum. Right now, it is being delivered by Pakistan's military dictator, Pervez Musharraf. It has been delivered to the West, specifically the US, by many dictators and it goes like this: you support me and all the monstrous things I do or you will have to deal with the demons and dragons I keep at bay on your behalf.

The Pakistani version of the dictator's ultimatum is particularly acute for Australia right now. There is little doubt elements of the Pakistani military, especially its notorious Inter-Services Intelligence, are assisting Taliban forces to move into Afghanistan and back across to Pakistan. These Taliban forces are, among other things, committed to killing Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister John Howard has written to Musharraf asking him to stop this. At different levels of government and the bureaucracy we make representations to the Pakistanis about this problem. As do the Americans. As do others. The normal Pakistani response is to blandly deny what every Western intelligence agency knows is happening, then frequently to blame the troubles in Afghanistan, bizarrely, on India.

Frequently in history it has been the right thing to tolerate or co-operate with a dictatorship to achieve an overriding strategic end or because the dictator will embrace a road to peaceful democratic change eventually, or because he is less monstrous than the alternative. Thus in World War II we allied ourselves with Joseph Stalin, one of the worst dictators the world has known, in the over-riding interest of defeating Hitler and Nazism.

It was not a pretty thing to make such an alliance. The alliance itself condemned many millions of east Europeans to slavery and totalitarianism for decades. But the threat of Hitler was overwhelming and our ability to help the Russian people against Stalin was in any event zero.

Other cases have been greyer. When Ferdinand Marcos first came to office in The Philippines he did so democratically and was a pretty good president to start with. He gradually became more and more authoritarian and was a kleptocrat without redeeming features by the end. For a time, his version of the dictator's ultimatum was this: it's me or the communists.

Filipino communists were indeed gruesome, bloody and brutal. One of the best analyses of them, in the US journal Commentary, described them as "the new Khmer Rouge". If indeed the alternative to Marcos was the communists, then tolerating Marcos was not only strategically sensible but better for Filipinos.

But by 1986, when the Filipino people overthrew Marcos, the equation was completely different. The Soviet threat had faded and it was Filipino civic society that forced Marcos out, with US support, not the communists. And The Philippines became a democracy.

The long reign of Suharto in Indonesia was even more complex. Suharto came to power in the mid-'60s when Indonesia had one of the largest communist parties in the world. As Paul Keating correctly observed, the rise of Suharto was the single greatest act of strategic good fortune Australia enjoyed after World War II. When Suharto arose there was a contest for power between three big forces in Indonesia: secular nationalists, who had their strongest expression in the army; communists; and organised Islam. It was in Australia's interests that the secular nationalists win. For a long time Suharto delivered economic development and a growing civil society for Indonesia. If he had retired in 1993, Suharto would today be reckoned a great statesman.

But what about the interests of the Indonesian people? Certainly it was reasonable to hope that Suharto would follow a characteristic East Asian transition to more representative government and eventually democracy. When he was eventually deposed, chaos and civil war did not follow but democracy did.

What about Pakistan? The hard-headed realist approach to Pakistan might be to say you could roll the dice in Indonesia because of two factors: the character of Islam in Indonesia is generally moderate and the country does not possess nuclear weapons.

Neither applies in Pakistan. What happens if the West rolls the dice there? It's easy to conjure nightmare scenarios.

Perhaps Pakistan, or some large part of it, becomes ungoverned space that would be extremely hospitable to terrorists. Or worse, a Sunni version of Iran emerges, an avowedly Islamist and militant state. And that state would possess dozens of nuclear weapons.

So that makes the risk too great. But the risk of sticking with Musharraf is also too great. The exposure of the A.Q. Khan network put an end to the most extensive mechanism of nuclear technology and materials proliferation in the history of the human race. It is impossible to believe this all happened without Musharraf knowing.

Western intelligence agencies are now as one in believing the likeliest source for al-Qa'ida to obtain a nuclear weapon is Pakistan.

Its army, certainly below the level of corps commander, is increasingly Islamised. Its lawless North West Frontier Province is increasingly Talibanised.

Musharraf is under increasing pressure from the Islamists on the one hand and from the liberal end of society fed up with his dictatorship and enraged by his decision to sack the chief justice on the other.

Musharraf could possibly do some kind of deal with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in an attempt to gain new legitimacy for his regime.

At the moment you could think of three broad strands in Pakistani society: the Islamists, the military and the liberal civil society. If Pakistani history is any guide, the military will keep itself at the centre of real power but will need to co-opt at least one of the other two groups to its de facto governing coalition.

Much that is wrong with Pakistan began under the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq, who ruled for a decade to 1988 with the support of Islamists. It's much better for Pakistan if the military rules with the support of liberal, civil society, such as it is. But of course liberal, civil society cannot give its long-term support to a dictatorship. All of which suggests the way forward has to be some kind of grand bargain between Musharraf and the mainstream political parties.

Of course, when the civilians last ruled Pakistan, it was still the military that made the real decisions.

As a dictator, Musharraf and his soldiers walk both sides of the street with the West. They denounce terrorism but do little to curb the Taliban. They have recently made a few arrests after furious lectures from US Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Many of their 30,000 madrassas continue to teach paranoia and hatred.

Musharraf claims in his highly unreliable memoir that former US deputy secretary of state Rich Armitage threatened after the 2001 terrorist attacks that the US would "bomb Pakistan back to the stone age" if it did not co-operate in the war on terror.

That is the pattern with the dictator's ultimatum. Occasionally the dictator cannot deliver enough to the West, which must beat on him to keep his monsters at bay, as he has promised. This is a perhaps necessary but certainly sordid bargain.

The bottom line is that it is not sustainable permanently. The West must have a bigger political project in Pakistan than keeping the dictator in office.


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Original piece is http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21873722-25377,00.html


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The Age is mute on most issues to do with real and honest analysis...they are busy pushing a different agenda...something to do with their esteemed editor...who is doing a good job of burying that newspaper's credibility altogether!

Posted on 2007-06-10 01:43:09 GMT