It may take months before the dust settles in the wake of the tragedy that ravaged the Pakistani part of Kashmir. And it would surely take years before things could get back to normal in the stricken land. But one thing is already clear: The Pakistani leaders need to do some hard thinking. And the person who has to do most of that thinking is President Pervez Musharraf.
One aspect of the tragedy, under-reported by the media, concerns the damage done to Pakistan's military machine. A look at the map of the disaster shows that the heart has been plucked out of Pakistan's defense setup. No one knows how many soldiers actually died in the earthquake and how much materiel was lost. But there is no doubt that the damage done was greater than any expected from a mid-scale military conflict.
Thus the damage caused by the tragedy is so vast that Pakistan alone cannot bear the burden of reconstruction that, according to some estimates, may require up to $100 billion over the next decade. Because such sums cannot come through charity and traditional aid, Pakistan needs to attract a great deal of direct foreign investment. That requires two things: Confidence in the nation's political stability, and a sense that the leadership in Islamabad has a realistic vision of the future. On both scores, however, much more must be done before the requirement is met.
For the past five years Musharraf has run Pakistan on a day-to-day basis, fashioning his policies on the basis of his experience as a paratrooper: Moving from one commando mission to another with little or no concern about how the various operations might come together to form a pattern. And, to be fair, he hasn't done so badly. He has ended Pakistan's international isolation and brought its crippling debt problem under some control. He has also started to tackle the all-pervasive corruption that has gangrened Pakistan since its creation in 1947.
As far as the war against terrorism is concerned, Musharraf deserves praise in hunting down the "Arab Afghans" who brought so much suffering to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. But when it comes to curbing the Taleban and their Pakistani allies, Musharraf's record is mixed, at best. It is as if his administration recognizes two types of terror: One associated with the Arab jiahdists and another promoted by the Pushtuns on both sides of the Durand Line.
All in all Musharraf is by far the most successful of all the military leaders that have ruled Pakistan since Gen. Iskander Mirza in the 1950s. And, yet, he may be reaching the point at which he would need to rethink aspects of his doctrine, starting with the belief that he can reshape Pakistan without the participation of political forces with genuine grass-root support.
Musharraf may have formed that belief during his stay in Turkey where he served in various diplomatic-military posts representing Pakistan. He has, in fact, often talked of the "Turkish model" as the ideal one for his nation.
But there is one key aspect of the "Turkish model" that Musharraf has chosen to ignore. The Turkish military always worked with, and at times through, genuine political parties. Often, the Republican People's Party, founded by Ataturk himself, was the mass political organization that the Turkish Army used as an interface with civil society. Musharraf, however, is no Ataturk, and this is not meant as a disparaging remark, and cannot form a political party of his own. This is why he has had to rely on a number of small Islamist parties for political support while his administration is staffed by technocrats with little political experience.
In addition to the task of rebuilding the devastated areas of Kashmir and the north , Pakistan today faces three simultaneous challenges.
The most pressing of these is terrorism.
Musharraf has already survived at least two attempts on his life by groups that, when one digs deep enough, finds their roots in the same political parties that are supposed to support the president. To win the war against terrorism Musharraf needs to create a broad national coalition that includes parties with genuine grass-root support. By trying to marginalize Pakistan's genuine political parties, notably those led by the two former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf has only opened more space for radical Islamist groups.
The political aspect of the war against terrorism requires the active participation of all parties, groups and personalities that reject a Taleban-style vision for the future of Pakistan. The earthquake tragedy provides an excellent occasion for national reconciliation and the creation of a united front against terror.
The second challenge that Pakistan faces comes from globalization. The flood of cheap goods, especially textiles, from China is already driving many Pakistani goods out of the world markets. Without a sustained technological revolution, Pakistan will not be able to maintain its people's already meager living standards, let alone finance the rebuilding of its defenses.
Such a revolution, however, cannot start unless political stability is improved. Those who have tried to kill Musharraf, and are sure to try again, know that his disappearance could plunge the nation into chaos, giving them the opportunity to seize power or, if that were not possible, to make the country ungovernable. China and India have succeeded in attracting unprecedented levels of direct foreign investment largely because their political stability does not depend on a single man.
The third and perhaps most important challenge that Pakistan faces is the steady erosion of its national identity and the emergence and re-emergence of regional, even tribal, identities that threaten its integrity. Although Pakistan was founded on the ideal of a common Islamic heritage, it was never meant to become an Islamist state. The late Gen. Zia ul-Haq did lasting damage to Pakistan by ignoring that historic reality and by trying to impose his narrow vision of Islam on the country.
The "Turkish model" so dear to Musharraf envisages a system in which a nation that is Muslim by belief can live within a religiously neutral political framework.
To build that system Ataturk invented and then emphasized the myth of "Turkishness" as the primary building bloc of his secular republic's identity. No similar concept could be introduced into Pakistan where para-national and regional specificities cannot be melted into a single mythical identity.
To bring the Pakistanis together at this difficult time, Musharraf couldn't find anything better to offer than unity in diversity. And that requires a readiness to broaden the base of the government, to share power, and to revive the original dream of Pakistan as an alliance of Muslims peoples living in a democratic system.