Who Might Follow Musharraf?

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Scott Simon speaks with Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution about Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's grip on power and what might happen after he moves from the scene. Cohen is the author of The Idea of Pakistan.


For a deeper look at the politics behind President Musharraf's strategy and tactics, we turn now to Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution and author of the book, "The Idea of Pakistan."

Thanks very much for being with us.

Dr. STEPHEN COHEN (Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Brookings Institution): Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And help us understand why President Musharraf has been so touchy about resigning from the army, it's his base of power?

Dr. COHEN: Well, in Pakistan, the general assumption has always been that if you're in uniform, you have power. And why this is so is clear because the army can depose whatever leader happens to be in power and has done this on three or four occasions.

SIMON: So if he was no longer head of the army, he thinks that he might become vulnerable to other members of the military who might be part of a coup to depose him, or a move to depose him if ever?

Dr. COHEN: He would say - he would rationalize it by saying that only by head of the army can he be an effective leader of Pakistan because the army has become, by default, one of the strongest, most coherent organizations in the country. It doesn't mean it can run Pakistan well, but that's the general assumption.

SIMON: What kind of a role does Benazir Bhutto have to play at this particular point?

Dr. COHEN: Well, she would like to share power. She knows that she's not going to be given power and even in an election, which would probably be manipulated, she won't come out as the Pakistan's number one leader. And I believe that she would like to broaden the political community so that other politicians can enter it.

The problem is that she and the other leading politicians have deep enmity with each other. So there's this intense jealousy and rivalry among the politicians, which makes it easy for the military to rule.

SIMON: Should the United States be preparing for an era after Musharraf?

Dr. COHEN: I think so. I think we should have been preparing for this a long time ago. In fact, if there's a failure, the America policy was not to anticipate this kind of event four or five years ago.

I never thought that Musharraf was the kind of man - a strong, effective leader. He's a strong leader with signs of weakness, but he's never been that effective. In fairness, perhaps, he can't do all the things we asked him to do. We've asked him to go after al-Qaida, to round up Taliban, to stop the nuclear program, and now to revive democracy in Pakistan. Perhaps, no Pakistani leader could have done all of those things.

SIMON: Given the amount of money the U.S. has poured into the Pakistani military, does it have much leverage?

Dr. COHEN: I think we do. On the other hand, if we tend to manipulate that aid significantly, they have leverage over us. In fact, most military - American operations in Afghanistan run through Pakistan, all of our logistics is based through Pakistan. And there's no other way of getting it there. By air we could do it for a couple of months or a couple of weeks perhaps, but there's no other land route to Pakistan, certainly not through Iran.

So I think they do have leverage over us. We need them for intelligence sharing. We need them in a sense to cooperate in rounding up people within Pakistan. In a sense, they also tolerate our military operations in Pakistan. So while we could manipulate the aid package, and I think we should put conditions on it, clearly they could respond by making our position in Afghanistan more difficult.

SIMON: And what about reaction in India? How do they feel looking across the border?

Dr. COHEN: For years, the Indians were concerned about a too strong Pakistan, a Pakistan that provoked them, that went to war with them several times that pushed people across the border. Now, they're very much worried about a too weak Pakistan. Because a Pakistan that did fail would be a Pakistan that would probably unleash refugees, perhaps nuclear weapons in India's direction.

SIMON: Recognizing that I'm asking to know the unknowable, the United States has encouraged the front drivers(ph) of democracy and elections and then often been just a little staggered by the results. What do you think the results of free elections in Pakistan, if be they it in January or February, will bring?

Dr. COHEN: The one consequence of an election that would not occur would be the coming into power of a radical Islamic government. The radical Muslims - those who believe in using force, extreme ideology - are not that powerful in Pakistan. Pakistan is different than other Muslim states, certainly different than perhaps Palestine. Most Pakistanis are fairly centrists and most of the political parties, in fact, are secular.

So I think if there were free election, you'd get a group of politicians come into power, the Islamists holding a minor - very minor role. Then you'd get a series of more or less secular politicians trying to adjust their own power relationship with each other and with the military. That I think would lead to an unstable Pakistan. But I don't see any alternative to that over the next couple of years.

SIMON: Stephen Cohen, senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and author of "The Idea of Pakistan," thanks very much.

Dr. COHEN: Thank you very much, Scott.

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