'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss? 

UPDATE: Is Musharraf feeling the pressure? Has he realized that he must quickly become the civilian alternative for prosecuting the "war on terror" or quickly find himself in the dustbin of history?

INITIAL POST: The US faces a serious dilemma in regard to the current situation in Pakistan. Yesterday, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte described Musharraf as an irreplaceable ally in the "war on terror", and this is certainly the prevalent US perspective at this time. But it's not quite that simple.

Why? Because the opposition to Musharraf, attorneys and NGOs that are leading the opposition to the state of emergency are precisely those people and institutions normally relied upon by the US to legitimize neoliberal policies, primarily by reducing broad social needs to legal rights and privileges.

Hence, attorneys and NGOs (and I speak in a global context here) emphasize due process and human rights (such as freedom of speech, the right to travel, women's rights, the right to judicial due process) even as neoliberal economic policies eviscerate public services for much of the populace through loss of housing, education and medical care, not to mention employment under sweatshop conditions (which, of course, is legally prohibited, providing the illusion of social justice, even as it is practically impossible to enforce).

For example, in relation to Pakistan, look at this statement by Shanin M. Cole, the wife of Michigan professor Juan Cole, and an attorney educated in Lahore, one of the centers of protest against Musharraf. Her emphasis is upon the rule of law, a phrase that has increasingly been utilized by US governmental officials as a euphemism for privatization of resources, deregulation and the free flow of capital. She advocates the classic liberal notion that US financial assistance for the Pakistani military should instead be directed towards the education system, thus liberating Pakistani children from the madrassas.

Note that Cole does not suggest that the crony capitalism of Pakistan, evocative of Suharto's Indonesia, should be abandoned. After all, the rule of law is an instrument for G-8 investors to obtain economic privileges in Pakistan. It is not a means for Pakistanis to challenge the corruption of the political and military elite. Nor does she address the extent to which Musharraf (and Bhutto before him) adopted neoliberal economic policies to the detriment of millions of Pakistanis.

Put simply, Cole is not advocating a mass movement to change the social order in Pakistan. Rather, she seeks to appeal to educated, middle class people, in Pakistan and elsewhere, to come forward in opposition to the state of emergency. It is, in effect, the substitution of one elite form of politics for another. As for all those Pakistanis who have been victimized by neoliberal economic policies, Cole provides an answer that should be familiar to all of us who have been subjected to New Democrat nostrums for the last 20 years: of course, it's education.

Accordingly, does anyone doubt that if Musharraf were deposed, replaced by, say, Bhutto, or some other political figure accepted to the Pakistani middle class, that Pakistan would, this time, from an explicitly secular position, continue to prosecute the "war on terror" in the tribal areas and Afghanistan, while continuing to enforce neoliberal policies? Indeed, one should not ignore the possibility that such a figure would intensify conflict against Islamic radicals as a cover for eviscerating whatever remains of social welfare services while pursuing reforms recommended by US, IMF and World Bank economists under the guise of fighting corruption.

Perhaps, Bhutto has already given the game away here with her (literally) incendiary remarks about confronting Islamic extremists. Thus, the US faces a tough call: support Musharraf over the short to medium term, at the price of allowing him to destroy the "civil society" that serves as the foundation of the neoliberal order, so as to permit the ongoing prosecution of the "war on terror", or push Musharraf out, to preserve the people and institutions that the US intends to utilize to preserve long term control over the society.

Breaking news stories to the effect that the state of emergency will end as soon as Musharraf obtains a decision from his puppet Supreme Court allowing him to rule for 5 more years may indicate that the US is already recognizing the wisdom of the latter course. More specifically, it may have recognized, as stated here, that a civilian leader will have even greater latitude to pursue the "war on terror" than him. Such an insight may be gaining greater currency in light of recent reports that Musharraf, because of the state of emergency, now finds himself constrained in his ability to launch military operations in the tribal areas.

One possible outcome is that the US and Britain will start gently pushing for Musharraf to stand aside, and permit some heretofore unknown, younger military leader with a reformist image to take charge, a person who then proceeds to make a deal with Bhutto, containing the pressures for radical change that bubble beneath the surface. Because nothing is more essential than the preservation of elite control over Pakistani social life and politics.

The elites have been properly domesticated to subordinate themselves to the US, but who knows what might happen if an emboldened populace of all classes insists, after having been incited to action by, paradoxically, representatives of that most conservative of professions, the legal one, upon a truely democratic and independent Pakistan? They forced their way onto the stage in the late 1960s, and almost prevailed. Perhaps, they are about to return after a long hiatus.

Labels: , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?