Musharraf's Nice Little Coup

In attempting to hold on to power at any cost, Pervez Musharraf has alienated Pakistanis and precipitated a political crisis that could reverberate throughout the region. But in this unseemly effort the Pakistani president has found an important ally—the Bush administration.
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In attempting to hold on to power at any cost, Pervez Musharraf has alienated Pakistanis and precipitated a political crisis that could reverberate throughout the region. But in this unseemly effort the Pakistani president has found an important ally—the Bush administration. 

To be sure, the administration has publicly voiced demands that Musharraf end the emergency, organize elections, and take off his army uniform. But at the same time, it is quietly accepting Musharraf’s coup as a fait accompli. The end of the state of emergency will not mean restoring the Supreme Court and its chief justice to power. It will mean implicitly accepting the fiction of Musharraf’s election as president of Pakistan.

The Bush administration believes that it needs the cooperation of the Pakistani military in the “war on terror” and in its anti-Taliban operations and it has bought Musharraf’s argument that he staged the coup in order to protect the military and to enable the anti-terrorist operations to continue. But this is simply not true. Musharraf staged a coup in order to retain his own personal power over Pakistan. And by helping him do so, the United States is pursuing a policy that could undermine Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror. 

Indeed, the Bush administration’s policies make no sense at all. By backing Musharraf’s attempt to remain in power but insisting that he take off his uniform, the United States is potentially weakening Musharraf, who has no significant constituency outside the army, to the extent that he would no longer be an effective instrument of American policy. By doing this, it would also incur the distrust of the Pakistani establishment without improving its democratic credentials. Securing his presidency in this manner will only postpone the issue of legitimacy that his regime has faced for the past six months. The current crisis cannot be blamed on the former Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudry, who by simply doing his job had become too much of an embarrassment for many people in and out of Pakistan.

Perhaps Musharraf will weather this crisis. But the consequences of his remaining in power could prove even worse than his disappearance from the political scene. Because his main opposition comes from the liberal branch of society, his political survival will depend on its ability to silence it. Silencing opposition will allow radical voices to dominate the public space. Indeed, the political crisis of the past six month has been misunderstood. The same liberal forces that oppose Musharraf because he is a military dictator supported him when he moved against the radicals who had found refuge in the Red Mosque in Islamabad. These liberals support democracy and reject Islamic radicalism. By suppressing them, Musharraf will make it more difficult to mobilize the population in the fight against terrorism. And mainstream politicians of every affiliation will be increasingly uneasy about cooperating with the United States.

The present situation offers Washington a unique opportunity to help a smooth and gradual transition toward a more effective and representative government that could aid the United States in the war on terror while maintaining its control over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Indeed, no civilian government, nor the Pakistani army, for that matter, will question the need to maintain strong links and cooperation with the United States. How can this opportunity be seized?

It’s clear what the United States should not try to do. It should not try to work out a backroom deal with either Musharraf or his potential successors. Such deals will inevitably be rejected by the Pakistani people. The solution lies in the restoration of both the Pakistani constitutional process and the Supreme Court. That should be the primary demand of the international community. Everything else, including the restoration of a level playing field for all political parties, will follow.

For sure Pakistan will not become a Jeffersonian democracy overnight. What can reasonably be expected is at best something close to the 1988 situation, when the army voluntarily decided to withdraw behind the scenes while continuing to manipulate the game. This would offer the potential for opening up new political space. It would then be up to the Pakistanis themselves to gradually develop the structural reforms that will put Pakistan back on track. In this process, Washington’s best course of action would be to remove its support for the Musharraf regime.

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About the South Asia Program

The Carnegie South Asia Program informs policy debates relating to the region’s security, economy, and political development. From the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan’s internal dynamics to U.S. engagement with India, the Program’s renowned team of experts offer in-depth analysis derived from their unique access to the people and places defining South Asia’s most critical challenges.


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of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


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political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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