If President Musharraf is ousted, it will be another example of Pakistan's underlying stabilityby Anatol Lieven / July 28, 2007 / Leave a comment
One of the nice things about Pakistan at the moment is that it makes me feel young again. I first went there in 1988 as a stringer for the Times to cover the aftermath of General Zia’s assassination and the military-managed “transition to democracy.” The inheritors of government were Benazir Bhutto and her Pakistan People’s party (PPP), but the military was careful to balance her electoral victory by keeping an ally of theirs, Mian Nawaz Sharif, as chief minister of the most populous province, Punjab.
Nineteen years have passed, the Soviet Union has fallen, the US has invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, China has emerged as an economic superpower and my own life has been transformed—and yet in Pakistan we are once again talking about a managed transition from military rule to that of Benazir Bhutto.
That the world can have changed so much, and Pakistan so little, says a great deal about the relationship between socioeconomic stagnation and political stability there—an underlying stability which belies the surface volatility of Pakistani affairs. Pakistani society, with its thick network of clan and family allegiances, has proved incapable of generating modern political mass parties. What it has is one dynastic party, the PPP, and others which are mere congeries of local bosses and landowners. There are only two “real” Pakistani parties in the western sense—with grassroots organisation and some sort of programme—and both of them would tear the country apart if they ever gained supreme power. These are the MQM, an ethnic Muhajir party, and the Jamaat-Islami, a radical Islamist force.
Closely related to the weakness of the parties is the strength of the military. The military is strong because it is the only Pakistani institution which works according to modern Weberian rules, as a more or less orderly, meritocratic and bureaucratic force with an esprit de corps and a capacity for self-discipline. The weakness and corruption of the civilian parties has allowed the military repeatedly to seize power—and military power in turn has contributed to civilian weakness.
While General Musharraf’s days are probably numbered, it is unlikely his replacement will make much difference to Pakistan’s future, because the underlying factors determining that future will remain. According to the constitution, Pakistan must hold parliamentary elections by early next year. There has been talk of Musharraf postponing the elections, but this…