In the end, for all his false bravado, the general walked. Validating Churchill's aphorism yet again, Washington finally did the right thing in casting him adrift, having exhausted all the alternatives.
Pervez Musharraf's nine-year rule fits the profile of most military dictatorships in the gap between inflated rhetoric and exaggerated threats to the nation on the one hand, and on the other, self-serving policies that pamper the military, enrich the rulers, denude the national treasury, and bankrupt the nation morally, politically and economically. His departure offers the chance of a fresh start for Pakistan but also for a more stable and less suspicion-laden relationship with India, Afghanistan and the West.
Pakistan's history is one of turbulence and volatility as the norm with brief interludes of stability and hope. Alternating civilian and military governments have competed in a race to the bottom in driving Pakistan to ruin and breakup. Instead of consolidating and expanding institutions of good governance, they have systematically hollowed them out, with the significant exceptions of the military and the elite bureaucracy. Indeed the immediate source of Mr. Musharraf's ignominious exit is his fatal mistake in March last year of firing the chief justice (who might now be a good candidate for a trimmed down ceremonial post of president).
A greater problem for Mr. Musharraf was a pathology all too common in military regimes, with an added deadly twist in Pakistan. The colonels and generals develop a distrust bordering on contempt of civilian politicians. But politics does not stop, any more than history comes to an end, with a successful coup. The first task of generals, beside eliminating intellectuals, is to remove all actual and potential rivals from the political space. That is, the destruction of peaceful political contestation and the suppression of civil society is integral to the logic of military rule. This is why military rule is always part of the problem, never a solution.
Having killed, imprisoned or exiled all political leaders, generals are faced with the problem of legitimizing their rule. General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, the killer of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, did so by Islamicizing Pakistani society and the military, a policy continued by Mr. Musharraf. All military rulers in Pakistan have a vested interest in maintaining enmity with India to keep their grip on power. Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban, which was created, financed, trained and nurtured by Pakistan's feared and autonomous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), gave strategic depth and a base to Pakistan from which to bleed India in disputed Kashmir.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11, in which Pakistan was deeply complicit, albeit not at the governmental level, were a game-changer at one level that, from another perspective, merely intensified the internal contradiction of Pakistan's domestic, regional and global calculus. Pakistan was the only country in the world that combined the volatile and lethal cocktail of a military dictatorship, Islamic fundamentalism with a strong al-Qaeda presence, and nuclear weapons.
To retain and expand U.S. support, Mr. Musharraf had to reposition himself as the strongest and the only bulwark against Islamic terrorism. In signing up as a frontline state in the war on terror, he made himself anathema to large segments of Pakistani society and a target of assassins in the ranks of the Islamists, including within the security agencies. But if he eliminated the Islamist threat, his utility to Washington would disappear.
So to the bitter end he was immersed in the dangerous but increasingly transparent game of playing both ends against the middle.
This history is important for reinforcing the need for building the middle class, civil society and the institutions of good governance if Pakistan is to pull back from the precipice. Democratic rule cannot guarantee good governance, prosperity and peace. Military rule does guarantee their opposite. Democratic rule featuring broad-based political parties is a necessary but not sufficient condition for stabilizing the most dangerous country on earth.
Mercifully, the army stayed studiously above the fray as the civilian government moved to impeach Mr. Musharraf. And the elected government has done well to come out on top in its confrontation with him. The hard part, agreeing how to govern for the best of the country, is still to come. The common hatred of Mr. Musharraf cannot unite the two parties any more, nor can he provide any further alibis for failures of governance.
India has always had an ambivalent relationship with Pakistan. The architect of the 1999 Kargil invasion, Mr. Musharraf almost went to total war with India in 2002 yet has pursued serious peace negotiations in recent times. India's elite knows that a power vacuum is inimical and a stable and united Pakistan is critical to India's own interests politically, economically and even for national security.
Offers of help rouse suspicions. But it would be good to see India respond to requests for assistance, and to provide diplomatic support, unilaterally and unconditionally, to a beleaguered Pakistan in international affairs. Should Pakistan choose to respond in kind, the two countries could find themselves in a virtuous cycle similar to that which ended the Cold War under presidents Mikhail Gorbachev, and George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Conversely, should India try to take advantage of turmoil to create further mischief in Pakistan, it will be crafting a rod with which to beat and break its own back in the future.
Westerners have slowly but surely come to appreciate India's difficulties in dealing with a duplicitous regime that promises one thing but does another clandestinely. Ultimately, the war in Afghanistan will be won not in Kandahar and Kabul but in Pakistan. It was a former Canadian ambassador, albeit wearing a UN hat, who recently called out Pakistan's perfidy in Afghanistan, followed by U.S. intelligence allegations of ISI complicity in planning the July 7 terrorist attack on India's embassy in Kabul.
Hopefully -- but don't bet on it -- the era of tolerating and coddling Pakistani dictators is over. Pakistan as a secular or moderate Islamic democracy, investing in stability, prosperity and peace, will rise or fall on the backs of its civilian leaders.
Finally, the nuclear problem. For Pakistan to give up nuclear weapons while India has them is inconceivable. That regressive chain leads all the way back to the U.S. For a number of reasons, for the first time the long-standing goal of nuclear abolition has street credibility in world affairs. Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former secretary of defence William Perry, and former senate armed services committee chairman Sam Nunn have joined forces to push the idea. The Democratic party is including it in its election platform. This is a goal worth pursuing.
India's bluff could be called in being committed, still, to universal nuclear disarmament. It would take care of the dilemmas regarding the India-U.S. deal on civilian nuclear co-operation. And it would end anxieties about terrorists getting them: that which no longer exists can neither be used nor proliferate, to terrorists or rogue regimes.
Also appeared in The Canberra Times