In the NYT today is Pakistan’s Silent Majority Is Not to Be Feared, an op-ed by the author Mohsin Hamid on Musharraf and the rising tide of discontent with his dictatorial ways. He begins by admitting that he was an early supporter of Musharraf and cites some of the economic booms during the last 7 years. However, in sympathy to the growing unrest against Musharraf, he has rethought his position:
This Devil’s bargain has been a consistent part of the popular psyche that has supported dictatorial rule in Pakistan since the 1950s. My parent’s generation praised Ayub for bringing industrialization and development and Zia for trying to harmonize Islam in Pakistan. And in 1999, I heard the same appeasements coming from the intellectuals – Musharraf will bring democracy or will train us to appreciate democracy. I consider this line of argument entirely specious:
On this one, I am squarely with the Subalternists. The filthy masses of Pakistan are political agents and they are ready for democracy. And they even have leaders. But, the unsurprising reality is that the system is set to prohibit any populist challenge to the regime. The two-legged bar stool of Pakistani dictatorship is firmly situated at this moment.
But now, this blunder by The General has swung the momentum towards that populist challenge. Until now Musharraf had been coasting on US/World Bank support, good economic news and a shrugging acceptance of status quo – that has now ended. There is no way for him to de-escalate without giving in on several key issues: uniform, Presidency, participation of all political parties in the election. This particular agitation by the lawyers follows closely the pattern after student unrest on campuses across the nation, gave birth to the MRD [Movement for Restoration of Democracy] during Zia, which, in turn, resulted in the elections of 1985.
Question is, will the United States support The General or back the calls for democracy? Will the President support the Black Revolution sweeping Pakistan?
In that I join Mohsin Hamid’s concluding paragraph: “An exaggerated fear of Pakistan’s people must not prevent America from realizing that Pakistanis are turning away from General Musharraf. By prolonging his rule, the general risks taking Pakistan backward and undermining much of the considerable good that he has been able to achieve. The time has come for him to begin thinking of a transition, and for Americans to realize that, scare stories notwithstanding, a more democratic Pakistan might be better not just for Pakistanis but for Americans as well.”