In all the hubbub that’s crossed the blogosphere about Pakistan in the last couple of days, I’ve been noticing a common thread, especially prevalent in North American writers but hardly quiet in many a writer from elsewhere in the first world, and that’s the assumption that the choice that exists to be made is between Pervez “I Am A Stereotypical Brutal Dictator” Musharraf and a million howlin’-mad Muslims who want everybody in the whole wide world to wear a veil and not eat pork.
It’s worth remembering that the disruption that “forced” Musharraf’s hand came as a result of his arrogant disregard for the country’s laws and his endemic corruption. Viewing images of the protests last month, I was struck by one image: hundreds of lawyers, all in suits, marching in protest. Not a one of them would look out of place in a Western court. Pakistan is a country where, despite all expectations, the public holds their constitution and legal system in high esteem. (There are certainly fundamentalists who want to change it, often dramatically so, but the key is that they also want to change it from within.)
None of this is to say that Pakistan, were Musharraf to disappear tomorrow, would suddenly turn into a landbound version of Malaysia or the like. But it’s a country with a large, intelligent professional class and an interest in political stability, neither of which are inherently in conflict with the Islamic character any longterm, stable, sorta-democratic Pakistan would have. Yes, I think we can all agree an Islamic government in Pakistan would probably mean less rights for women and religious minorities there (for starters), but I’d argue that a stable albeit limited democracy is superior to a bunch of tribal lords feuding with each other, particularly when the country in question has nuclear weapons available.
A final note, quoting Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings:
Religious people in Pakistan are not all fundamentalists or Islamists or extremists. Many of them are committed to both their faith and to democracy, just as many American Christians are. (Not in just the same way, as though culture were irrelevant; but: committed to both.) Democratic institutions are not nearly strong enough, and there aren’t nearly enough really inspiring leaders, but the last thing Pakistan needs is a military dictatorship that prevents these sorts of institutions from growing and learning.