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Pakistan: At Least the Generals Can Keep the Lights on

Some Pakistanis are nostalgic for military rule, writes the FT:

Only 15 per cent of Pakistanis have a positive view of Asif Ali Zardari, their president, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Centre, while 39 per cent still view Gen Musharraf favourably…

Pakistanis still express overwhelming support for the military as an institution, with 77 per cent calling it a good influence, the poll found. And the army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is viewed favourably by slightly more than half of those surveyed by Pew in March and April.

But the Pakistani military doesn’t want to take power directly. Pakistan is a mess, and nobody really wants to be responsible for trying—and inevitably failing—to clean it up. It wants at least the facade of civilian government — if nothing else it wants a sock puppet to deflect popular anger. This particular civilian government, however, has been testing the generals’ patience for some time. They don’t like the Bhutto dynasty at the core of the ruling PPP, and there seems to be some feeling, not entirely unreasonable, that even by the low standards of Pakistani civilian administrations this one is unusually good at stealing and unusually bad at getting things done.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court seems to be stepping into the breach. It has grown into its new role as a leading political force, having turned against the civilian government, forcing one prime minister out of office and pursuing a legal case against the elected president.

At least some of the military seems to want what could be called a “legal coup.” In this scenario, the Supreme Court would essentially dissolve the government on various grounds and install a non-party government of technocrats. That way the military gets what it wants: the crooked and incompetent politicians are kicked out, some more capable types come in and maybe make the country work better, but the military isn’t stuck with the business of running a broken country. And it would also avoid the international fallout that would follow from mounting an actual coup. After all, the generals could shrug their shoulders and say, it was the “nonpolitical” Supreme Court that did this.

This scenario looks a lot like what is happening in Pakistan these days, with one small wrinkle: the Chief Justice is also taking on the military. At least, he’s taking on some of the military. Many Pakistanis wonder what the Chief Justice’s agenda really is, and where their country is headed. We wonder that, too.

Let’s hope Wikileaks produces a treasure trove of memorandums and emails from Pakistan sometime soon. That’s the world’s best hope of figuring out what is going on in the world’s least stable and most troubled nuclear state.

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  • “the world’s least stable and most troubled nuclear state.”

    Do you really think Pakistan has nuclear weapons? I ask this because Israel doesn’t seem worried and because Pakistan’s official demonstration looked like dynamite (with peasants). Of course when India set off their nuke the Pakistani public demanded that they have one too, whether or not they could afford to develop one or even had the technical capacity was a different question.

    In these circumstances it was in everyone’s interest (China, India, Israel, the U.S., and the Pakistani elite itself) to make it look like Pakistan had an A-bomb instead of actually having one. Politics makes strange bedfellows.

    P.S. Another thing that made me suspicious: all the media reports afterwards detailing how Pakistan had secretly developed the bomb with the cooperation of German and Canadian companies, the mastermind, etc. As if Israeli intelligence could be caught so flatfooted. The truth is that elaborate media “story” is just the sort of thing the CIA is expert at concocting. This would all be top secret of course — way more classified than those WikiLeak intercepts.

    At a certain point it is more important for the world (and the American public) to know that Pakistan is not a nuclear threat than it is for the Pakistani public to think that it is. Knowledge is good.

  • Here’s a link to that Pakistani bomb:

  • Raymond R

    Maybe they can make the trains run on time too

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