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The Financial Times - November 6, 2007 by Gideon Rachman Sometimes it can be fun to be the bearer of bad tidings. On Saturday night I was able to stroll over to a senior member of the British foreign policy establishment and tell him that a state of emergency had been declared in Pakistan. Lawyers, politicians and human rights activists were under arrest. The senior member looked suitably concerned, got out his BlackBerry, called up the news and began to read. “Oh dear,” he said. Oh dear, indeed. It is a cliché of the international relations business that “Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world”. This is a nation with nuclear weapons, al-Qaeda bases, large lawless areas bordering Afghanistan and a rising tide of domestic militancy and terrorism. The US and its allies have treated General Pervez Musharraf as a crucial partner in trying to deal with these problems. But the general’s latest move threatens to produce turmoil and strips away the facade of constitutionalism that made it easier for the west to support him. So the western powers have to ask whether the general is – as they say – now part of the problem, rather than part of the solution? To judge from the American and British policymakers I spoke to at a conference over the weekend, opinion is divided. One Briton argued that: “We can’t go along with this coup. If we do, there will be an even bigger explosion in 10 years’ time.” An American responded: “Ten years from now is better than now.” Part of the problem is that the west has limited leverage. Or rather, there are certain levers that the west is unwilling to pull. The Americans are not going to cut off relations with a Pakistani army that they are urging to fight al-Qaeda – and that has its finger on the nuclear button. The British are not going to stop talking to an intelligence service that is critical to tracking the comings and goings of would-be suicide bombers. Beyond these pragmatic security concerns there is a deep scepticism about the chances of establishing a stable democracy in Pakistan. The country’s history since independence is hardly encouraging. A few years ago President George W. Bush declared that America would no longer rely on the “false stability” that came from supporting pro-western dictatorships. But the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan have given democracy-building a bad name. As one American commentator puts it: “That old false stability is looking pretty good right now.” All of this means that America and its allies are unlikely to withdraw support from Gen Musharraf. Instead, they will urge him to start rebuilding the facade of constitutionalism as soon as possible. But even if the “war on terror” is regarded as the critical consideration in determining policy to Pakistan, it is no longer obvious that that means supporting the current regime. Gen Musharraf’s record on terror is distinctly mixed. It is true that terrorists have tried to murder him several times. But it is also on his watch that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have established safe havens on Pakistani soil. Suicide bombing has also spread to Pakistan. In any case, the war on terror is not only about military and intelligence co-operation. In the long run, it must mean diminishing the rampaging anti-Americanism that serves as a recruiting sergeant for the terrorists. Here, the news from Pakistan is really discouraging. The most recent Pew survey of global opinion showed that only 15 per cent of Pakistanis had a favourable opinion of the US. Of the more than 40 groups polled, only the Palestinians and the Turks were more hostile. Of course, you could draw a variety of conclusions from these numbers. A truly cynical interpretation would be that if the Pakistanis really hate the US that much, the last thing you want is a democratic government to give expression to that sentiment. The trouble is that the history of the cold war demonstrates that the best way to entrench anti-Americanism for generations is for the US to support an unpopular dictatorship. And the polls show that Gen Musharraf – who once commanded quite a lot of support – is increasingly unpopular within Pakistan. His approval ratings are now in the low 20s – and that was before the declaration of a state of emergency. Gen Musharraf would like the west to believe that the only alternatives to his continued rule are anarchy or Islamism. But the people he is locking up in this latest crackdown are not the proverbial “mad mullahs”. They are lawyers, journalists and human rights activists – the backbone of the civil society that is needed if Pakistan is ever to make the transition to a sustainable democracy. Would these people eventually be swept aside by militant Islamists – making westerners and middle-class Pakistanis swiftly yearn for a return of military rule? Again, the evidence for this is quite weak. Islamist parties have never captured above 11 per cent of the vote in Pakistan. The polls suggest that popular sympathy for terrorism is actually falling, as Pakistanis experience suicide bombing on their own soil. In 2004, 41 per cent of Pakistanis told the Pew pollsters that suicide bombing was “sometimes” justified. This year that figure is down to 9 per cent. The fact is that terrorism is even more of a threat to Pakistan than it is to the west – and most Pakistanis know it. Any future government of the country will have to act on that knowledge – as will the Pakistani army. Mr Musharraf is not an indispensable ally in the fight against terrorism. So it is no longer in the west’s interests to encourage him to cling to power.

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