Like many, I've been watching with dismay as Musharraf's coup in Pakistan unfolded over the past few days. It seems to me that Pakistan is in for dark days. Of course, my feeling before the coup was that Pakistan was headed for dark days. One of those situations where the phrase damned if you do, damned if you don't seems to apply all too well.
Free elections were likely to have brought even more Talibanesque officials to power, further polarizing Pakistani society and increasing the likelihood of more repressive laws being enacted.
And yet this coup clearly strengthens their hand as well. The call for jihad and Islamic "purity" will be all the more appealing now that Musharraf can easily be categorized as a usurper and tyrant, a criminal even.
And the crackdown on pro-democracy forces from the human rights advocacy and the secularist communities who have protested the coup could easily leave a vacuum in the opposition to Islamist forces. With the left decimated, the far right could well have a field day.
Musharraf's record of fighting against Islamic extremists seems spotty at best, perhaps because we in the West get only isolated pictures of what is going on in Pakistan. But his handling of the Red Mosque militants seemed almost calculated to give them free reign. And this new move, while on the one hand temporarily keeping extremists out of the government, seems sure to give them more of an edge in the long run.
I wish I could see an obvious way forward for Pakistan. But I think that like race issues in the US, it is going to take a lot of hard work on the part of Pakistani moderates, liberals and progressives to counter the radicalization of Pakistani culture. And like the struggle against racism here, it isn't something that is going to be solved overnight, or even by enacting a few laws. A long hard struggle lies ahead for the Pakistani people.