The Economist is possibly the most prestigious news magazine in the English language.
Curiously for a British weekly over 60% of its subscribers reside in the USA. As the magazine is considered somewhat highbrow (in comparison to Time and Newsweek) its readership encompasses much of the US power elite - US Senate, Think Tanks, leading Universities and other academia, and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
More often than not, The Economist’s viewpoint – found in its leaders or editorials - provokes debate and influences the thoughts of many powerful individuals.
So when this magazine takes up cudgels against Musharraf, one can say safely say that its views will carry weight.
In a nutshell The Economist's harsh verdict on our Head Chowkidar is:
the most damning criticism of General Musharraf is that he continues to do grave damage to the long-term political health of Pakistan In his seven long years in office, he has insinuated the army into every nook and cranny of Pakistani public life, weakening institutions that were feeble already, emasculating its political parties and reducing parliament to a squabbling irrelevance. He has sacked judges when it suited him, created and dismembered parties at his own convenience, rigged a referendum on his presidency and used Pakistan's constitution to write his own job description…
Read the Leader in full
The Economist - Leaders
Security in Asia - The trouble with Pakistan
Jul 6th 2006
TERRORISM has many sources and claimed justifications, but if it can be said to have a centre, it lies in the training camps, madrassas and battlefields of northern Pakistan and south-eastern Afghanistan. There the Taliban and their ally, al-Qaeda, were both formed. From there, in hellish diaspora, jihadis have fanned out across the globe. Add to that Afghanistan's lawlessness and ability to produce vast amounts of opium, not to mention Pakistan's wretched history of venal democrats and clumsy dictators, and its lamentable record on nuclear proliferation, and it is clear why what happens in those two places is of huge importance to the rest of the world. From neither place is there much good news.
The West has invested a huge amount in Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in October 1999. This newspaper was prepared to give him a chance on condition that he acted swiftly and firmly to rein in extremism and sort out the economy, and then returned to barracks. He failed to do any of that. After September 11th 2001, however, he was recast as a provider of relative stability in a dangerous neighbourhood, and an essential ally in the “war on terror”. Money was showered upon him; he was feted in Washington, DC, and London. Only gradually has it started to dawn on his admirers that, in the past five years, he has not done very much to make Pakistan a less dangerous place.
A destroyer of democracy
True, the economy has improved quite a bit since 2001—and not just because of all that donor money. But promises, made even before September 11th, to bring the country's most radical madrassas under control have not been kept. The training camps that Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has long tolerated because of their usefulness against India and in Afghanistan still exist, though they have been told not to mount any operations for now. The most dangerous outfits, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (the Army of the Pure), have been banned, only to reappear under new guises. Not until 2004 and under the most intense American pressure did Pakistan arrest Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist who had cheerfully sold nuclear secrets to anyone prepared to pay.
But perhaps the most damning criticism of General Musharraf is that he continues to do grave damage to the long-term political health of Pakistan (see our survey). In his seven long years in office, he has insinuated the army into every nook and cranny of Pakistani public life, weakening institutions that were feeble already, emasculating its political parties and reducing parliament to a squabbling irrelevance. He has sacked judges when it suited him, created and dismembered parties at his own convenience, rigged a referendum on his presidency and used Pakistan's constitution to write his own job description. None of this bodes well for a post-Musharraf future—which could arrive at any moment given the enthusiasm of his enemies for trying to kill him.
Like a previous “caretaker” dictator, General Zia ul-Haq, who held power for 11 years before being killed, General Musharraf has been unable to resist the temptation to play politics with Islam, even if, unlike Zia, he has also had some success at purging fundamentalists from the top ranks of the army. He has forged a disparate group of Islamic political parties into a block that has helped him outmanoeuvre the democratic opposition; these Islamists are pushing hard for the extension of sharia law.
And then there's Afghanistan
It would not be fair to blame Pakistan for everything that is going wrong in Afghanistan. The government of Hamid Karzai is weak and corrupt; because of the West's continued failure to live up to its promises, much of the country, outside the big cities, is in the grip of bandits and warlords. But Pakistan's contribution to Afghanistan's chronic insecurity should not be underestimated. Both the Taliban and the remnants of al-Qaeda are able to take refuge on Pakistani soil, which makes the job of the soldiers from Western countries who have been struggling to eliminate them for the past five years much more difficult. The Taliban, after all, were in part a creation of Pakistan's ISI, which saw in them a way to establish a friendly state on their western flank, a vital strategic consideration for an organisation that sees itself as locked in perpetual conflict with India to its east.
General Musharraf, by contrast, contends he is doing all he can to root out Taliban fighters from their sanctuaries in the tribal areas, and Pakistan has lost more than 600 soldiers fighting there. Even so, say the critics, it could try much harder, especially given the size of its army. And as for al-Qaeda, none of General Musharraf's protestations can hide the fact that Osama bin Laden is generally reckoned to be holed up on Pakistani soil. Lesser terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the planner of the September 11th attacks, have been caught and handed over by the general, but Mr bin Laden goes on evading capture.
The danger is that Afghanistan may now, thanks to Pakistani meddling and Western neglect, gradually revert to what it was before September 2001: a state partly captured by the most dangerous Islamists. Belatedly waking up to this threat (see article), Britain is leading NATO into risky action in Afghanistan's southern provinces, a swathe of territory where the Kabul government's writ is ignored and where a record-breaking crop of poppies was recently harvested. With a remit that has been altered to war-fighting at short notice, inadequate numbers and an apparent lack of enough helicopters and armoured support, these soldiers are taking politically painful casualties. There is a risk that the will of the politicians back home to go on fighting will swiftly fade.
An unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan, intertwined with a chaotic and Taliban-dominated Afghanistan: it is not a settling prospect. It has all happened before, of course. The result was September 11th, swiftly followed by a terrorist outrage in Delhi that came close to provoking full-scale war between Pakistan and also-nuclear India. What will happen next time?