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Problems in Pakistan

Problems in PakistanThe recent state of emergency in Pakistan is the latest move by Gen. Pervez Musharraf to consolidate power and stifle democracy, according to Tufts' Vali Nasr.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.13.07] Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf's crackdown on the opposition earlier this month, including suspending the constitution, jailing hundreds of activists and government officials and muffling the press, amounts to what The Fletcher School's Vali Nasr calls a "military coup." According to Nasr, the West must not let the crisis in Pakistan spiral out of control or it threatens to destabilize not just the region but the entire world.

"A disastrous outcome in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state with weak institutions and rife with extremist ideologies, violence, and deep ethnic and social divisions, will be far worse than what followed the Iranian revolution," Nasr, a professor of international politics at The Fletcher School at Tufts, wrote in an op-ed for The Christian Science Monitor.

Nasr is a widely published author on Islamic and Middle East issues. His recent books include "Democracy in Iran" and "The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future." He earned his bachelor's from Tufts in 1983 and a master of arts in law and diplomacy (MALD) from The Fletcher School in 1984 before going on to earn a doctorate.

Pakistan has been a key ally of the United States, supporting the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and joining the U.S. in its post-9/11 efforts to root out terrorists on its own soil. Pakistan has received $10 billion in U.S. aid for targeting Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents said to be hiding in its rural regions. But Nasr said that Musharraf, who also heads the nation's military, has "selectively cooperated in the war on terror but resisted cutting all ties with extremists."

Nasr wrote in the Monitor that while he "pays lip service to democracy," Musharraf's main concern is consolidating his power.

"While presenting a secular image to the West, Musharraf has looked to Islamic parties to upend democracy," according to Nasr. "As a price for their cooperation, Islamic parties got protection for their Taliban and extremist allies and a free hand to impose more Islamic laws on Pakistanis."

Nasr told CNN that the United States has given Musharraf too much free reign.

"In the past decade, this administration has given President Musharraf a credit card to do whatever he wants to do. They haven't attached any conditionality to the aid money," he said in a recent interview on CNN. "We still are not even happy with the job they're doing with al Qaeda."

According to The Fletcher School expert, Musharraf's recent actions target not the country's government but its judiciary, what Nasr called the "obstacle to his indefinite rule."

In an attempt to bring about civilian rule, the United States had mediated a power-sharing arrangement between former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf. The country's supreme court, however, ruled that Musharraf could not seek re-election while maintaining his military post. According to Nasr's op-ed in the Monitor, "It was to prevent the supreme court from issuing its damning verdict that Musharraf put Pakistan under martial law."

While Musharraf will turn to his military for support, Nasr said in the Monitor that "Musharraf's interests are no longer those of his military, and the two are now on a collision course."

To end the crisis, Nasr said the U.S. must persuade Musharraf to back down and appeal to the Pakistani military for assistance in removing him from power. He was also critical of the U.S. response thus far to the Pakistani leader.

"We could have been more critical of Musharraf," Nasr told CNN. "We could have told him early on that he needs to respect democracy, that he cannot just abuse power just to stay in power."

Nasr stressed that Musharraf does not share the United States' interest in targeting extremists.

"The extremists are not a threat to him. Democrats are," Nasr told CNN. "It's not people with long beards and machine guns that worry him. It's lawyers with ties and suits that worry him. It's a piece of paper called the constitution of Pakistan that stands in his way for staying there as king forever."

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