For a while, I was of the “let’s stop coddling Musharraf and get serious about democracy!” school of thought with regard to Pakistan. Then that came to seem a little silly and naive to me. More recently, my internal pendulum is swinging the other way. Blake Hounshell has an article on this that, I think, nicely spells out the biggest problem here:
[Rep. Gary] Ackerman worries that if Musharraf is forced out, be it by politicking military generals or via genuine elections, the United States will be left friendless. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a visiting scholar at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, has a different concern. With the United States being seen as supporting Musharraf’s actions, “any anti-Musharraf agitation also takes on an anti-American shape,” even among groups not especially opposed to U.S. policies in the past.
Of course it’s both/and, not either/or. And this, really, is what went awry in Iran. Having decided that any alternative to the Shah was likely to be worse for us than the Shah, we backed the Shah, which had the effect of making us even more dependent on the Shah as we had no other points of entry into Iran and all other political currents became increasingly hostile to the United States. But nothing lasts forever. America’s policy to Pakistan can’t just be one man; and especially not when unvarnished support for that man cuts us off from any ability to work with other potential leaders — some of whom are essentially destined to become more important in the future. We don’t even really need to support democracy, as such, though democracy is a good thing. The point, rather, is that we need to orient our Pakistan policy around Pakistani policies — enduring ways in which we’d like Pakistan to help us, and enduring ways in which we are prepared to help Pakistan in exchange rather than around transient personalities.