Pakistan: It Is Hard to Have it Both Ways

While most Americans are focused on Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is just as critical and, in some ways, more important. Little known to many is the fact that Pakistani President Pevez Musharraf has been playing both ends against the middle since 11 September 2001, and that he may be about to get burned for it. Most people don’t realise that Musharraf is one in a line of military leaders who have dominated Pakistan since Muhammad Zia-al-Haq overthrew Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977.

The year before that, I had as downstairs neighbours a pair of Texas A&M students, one cowboy and one Pakistani. The cowboy lamented the fact that his apartment mate, a Muslim, wouldn’t eat fatback in his beans. The Pakistani griped that the law of his country was based on British law and should be replaced by one based on Islamic (Shar’ia) law. Sure enough, Zia-al-Haq did just that, executing Bhutto to round things out in 1979. (Note to college students: listen to your Muslim classmates and neighbours, you just might learn something!) Islamic law, with the madrassas to teach it, have become embedded in Pakistani society ever since.

But Musharraf, possibly the slickest politician in the world (more so than even Bill Clinton, and in a lot more dangerous political arena) did a remarkable volte-face to support Bush’s "war on terror" after 9/11. His idea is primarily to keep the "balls up in the air" and not to get crushed by the U.S. (to say nothing of India) on one side and the Taliban/Islamicists on the other. Now he’s trying to "de-Islamicise" Pakistan’s laws, especially concerning the status of women. But he’s finding out that a population drilled in this kind of thinking doesn’t go quietly.

Will he succeed? It’s amazing that he’s gotten as far as he has. But the jury is still out.

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