Foreign Policy Blogs

Musharraf in Hindsight

No explanation can at this moment adequately address the horrors carried out in Gojra Pakistan. But these horrors are newsworthy and have potential to serve as a lesson in uprooting such inhumanity. Rather than focusing squarely and vaguely on vast historical causation that might allow factions to commit these horrors, a closer look at the multifaceted ways in which to uproot that causation by drawing on recent history is valuable.

Because in some ways recent events are repetitive of the country’s history of cyclical, civilian to military governance. Just over half of 62 years of Pakistani statehood have been spent under martial law (which is bizarre, though not entirely as alarming as it sounds). Civilian regimes have been notoriously corrupt and did little to bring about democracy when scrutinized beyond the cover of a “civlian” title. Given this backdrop and our long engagement with Islamabad, Washington’s lenses should be discerning when dealing with Pakistan. But events like Gojra, the Mumbai atrocities and relentless, daily plight Pakistan’s military and civilians face in uprooting terror from in and around their borders, consistently begs the question: what is still going wrong?
As mentioned, if we draw on recent events for explanation, there is one consistency: Since the War on Terror began, Pakistan was most stable under Musharraf with respect to security and international standing and since his departure, the economy is deteriorating. Correlating these successes to Msuharraf’s tenure might come across as reductive, but it is tangible. Thus, to better formulate our strategy in Pakistan given the luxury of hindsight, it could be useful to revisit Musharraf’s policies by way of dispelling vociferous censures that follow him until now:

As a military leader Musharraf’s governance deepened the cycle of martial law ultimately not allowing a democracy to take shape in Pakistan:

  • Not necessarily: South Asian policy expert Anatol Lieven explains “All civilian governments have been guilty of corruption, election rigging and the imprisonment or murder of political opponents, in some cases to a worse degree than the military administrations that followed.” And the pool from which to select leaders post Musharraf offered little hope for anything different. Alternative options were extensions of the very leadership Lieven explains. They offered dynastic governance (Benazir Bhutto as daughter of Zulfiqar Bhutto) or perpetual subversion of democracy through maintaining a feudal system (Asif Zardari). In fact, the feudal system wherein masses of uneducated Pakistani’s are bound to a servile existence is what causes this kind of aristocracy to reign. This rampant subversion of Pakistani citizenry is a far cry from democracy.
  • Musharraf indirectly addressed this by privatizing news media. This profoundly affected everyday Pakistani’s by spurring, fresh news, views, ideas, occupations and attention independent of state censorship and interest. Something I took for granted until spending time in Karachi before Musharraf’s tenure (especially under Sharif’s government). If anti- Americanism was a problem in Pakistan, Sharif’s rigid and religious driven censorship of television, and print media certainly did not help while Musharraf’s policies, did.
  • On a side note: although media privatization  is eclipsed by other news out of Pakistan in the past few years, I cite this as Musharraf’s crowning achievement. I maintain that its effects will have lasting impact on ultimately allowing a viable democracy to take shape in Pakistan by way of a meaningful dissemination of independent and increasingly globalized information.

Musharraf should not be credited with the economic growth because it was driven by foreign support funds from the War on Terror which would have been collected from cooperation by any Pakistani government in power at the time:

  • Also while investments were “paternalistic” during martial law, economic growth actually did, “trickle down” as was seen in major cities. A more modernized standard of living through increased consumption and access to products reflected this economic expansion amongst all levels in society. For the first time in Karachi, I saw hired help, including chauffeurs who are part of the working class carrying cell phones and purchasing American DVD’s. Women were increasingly seen occupying positions in the financial sector and politics. So military paternalism, is sadly more productive than the civilian corruption that takes place because it means funds are at least circulated domestically, rather than driven out of the country entirely.

Now I’m not equating these specific instances of consumption and progress necessarily to full-fledged support of Musharraf, nor am I making a case for permanent military rule in Pakistan or condoning military corruption. However, such tangible developments amidst unfounded criticism and the reality of Pakistan’s history should inform Washington. A senior fellow on South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations perhaps prescribed this best in 2007:

Musharraf offers Washington continuity in the face of uncertain political transition. He is a familiar face, a leader with whom the Bush administration has established a sustained working relationship. Under even the smoothest possible transition scenarios, Musharraf’s departure would interrupt bilateral cooperation on military, counterterrorism, and intelligence matters for days or weeks—with uncertain consequences for U.S. security

In hindsight, this assessment is quite apt. Musharraf was an ally who provided results and continued to successfully expand our efforts in the War on Terror. Not just for U.S. interests, but for Pakistani interests in security and development also. Had Musharraf not fired the Supreme Court judges and declared the state of emergency that wound up dismissing further justices, he might have maintained his leadership that is needed in Pakistan at this time. And I hope the Obama Administration takes this recent history into close consideration when formulating our ongoing cooperation with leaders in Islamabad.



Zainab Jeewanjee

Zainab Jeewanjee is a graduate of the Denver University's Korbel School of International Service, where she received a Masters of International Relations with a concentration in U.S. Foreign & Security Policy. Her area of focus is U.S. - Pakistan relations and she completed a senior thesis entitled U.S. Foreign Policy to Pakistan: History of of Bilateral Cooperation from Partition Through the Cold War as an undergraduate at Santa Clara University. Zainab is also sales director at Silicon Valley based Follow her on Twitter @Zainyjee