Juan Cole: What Musharraf is up to (It's not cracking down on terrorists)

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Barnett Rubin at our Global Affairs site] is in Islamabad. He points out that Musharraf has been invoking the need to fight Muslim extremism as a pretext for his coup. But in fact, he made the (further) coup because the Pakistani Supreme Court had unanimously decided that he was ineligible to run for president, and he hasn't cracked down on the radio station of Fazlur Rahman in the north (one of the Pakistani clerics who trained the Taliban and who denies that al-Qaeda exists). He has cracked down on civilian Supreme Court justices, on lawyers, and other distinctly secular, middle class forces in Pakistani society (along with officials of the Jama'at-i Islami, the Pakistani equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has not for the most part been violent).

In fact, the Muslim extremists are in the tribal areas, and in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the hardscrabble towns and villages of northern Punjab. If you were worried about the extremists, you'd declare martial law in the NWFP and the tribal areas. Instead, Musharraf is said to be planning to give in to the demand in these northern areas that sharia or Islamic canon law be implemented! This is a defender of secularism?

Down in Lahore and Faisalabad, no one could get more than a few hundred people even to protest Musharraf's frontal assault on the Red Mosque last summer. But Musharraf didn't make his coup in the NWFP, he arrested hundreds in Lahore and elsewhere in the deep Punjab, which is mostly traditional, conservative, Sufi, Shiite, or mildly reformist. There are extremists from the eastern and southern Pakistani Punjab, but they are a small fringe. That is why it is significant that Qazi Hussain of the Jama'at-i Islami could rally 20,000 persons near Lahore. When the Punjabis get excited about something in Pakistan, there is sometimes a political earthquake.

If Bush and Cheney are ever tempted into extreme measures in the United States, Musharraf has provided a template for how it would unfold. Maintain you are moving against terrorists and extremists, but actually move against the rule of law. Rubin has accepted the suggested term of "lawfare" to describe this kind of warfare by executive order.

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