Musharraf Resigns

Via the Times, I see that Pervez Musharraf is stepping down as President of Pakistan.

I see a lot of reaction to this, mostly summed up by “Musharraf was a dictator,” or “Musharraf was inept,” or, “Musharraf was a major blunder,” and with all due respect I think the reaction thus far really sums up just how little most understand Pakistan. I started to really notice the phenomenon around the time people started lamenting Benzair Bhutto’s death. I remain convinced that people have become delusionally devoted to democracy for democracy’s sake. It was Bhutto, after all, who was running the government when the ISI started funding the Taliban in Afghanistan, and was hardly a shining light of liberal democracy. Her death was, as bad as it may sound, essentially a bullet dodged, as there’s literally no way to tell what she would have done back in power.

As for Musharraf, I tend to think antipathy about him typically revolves around our pre-conceptions of military dictators. Generally speaking, they’re bad, they’re brutal, and Americans don’t hold them in high regard. But Pakistan might be a unique case, in which the military is literally the least corrupt of the country’s social institutions, and probably most concerned with caring for the country. They’re certainly less corrupt than the police, the ISI, or the PPP. And it’s important to remember the context in which Musharraf took power. The government had been headed by Nawaz Shairf, a bona fide al-Qaeda sympathizer who palled around with Khalid Muhammed and openly bragged of sheltering terrorists, at a time when Pakistan had just finished building nuclear weapons. So you really did have a situation in which terrorist sympathizers controlled a nuclear capable country. The military coup was in large part an effort to remedy that, and very possibly prevented a nuclear war with India at the least.

Yes Musharraf was a weak leader, but that’s more a reflection of the complicated nature of life and power in Pakistan than it is on Musharraf. If nothing else, Musharraf should be given credit for deposing Sharif and securing the country’s nuclear weapons, for doing a fair job restraining the more radical elements of the ISI, and for avoiding either a nuclear war with India, or a nuclear armed al-Qaeda. Hopefully we don’t find ourselves blinded by Western perspective when the next leaders come to power.