A recent CNN poll showed that 46 percent of Pakistanis approve of Osama bin Laden.
Aspirants to the American presidency should hope to score so highly in the United States. In Pakistan, though, the al-Qaeda emir easily beat out that country’s current president, Pervez Musharraf, who polled at 38 percent.
President George Bush, the face of a campaign to bring democracy — or, at least, some form of sharia-lite that might pass for democracy — to the Islamic world, registered nine percent. Nine!
If you want to know what to make of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s murder today in Pakistan, ponder that.
There is the Pakistan of our fantasy. The burgeoning democracy in whose vanguard are judges and lawyers and human rights activists using the “rule of law” as a cudgel to bring down a military junta. In the fantasy, Bhutto, an attractive, American-educated socialist whose prominent family made common cause with Soviets and whose tenures were rife with corruption, was somehow the second coming of James Madison.
Then there is the real Pakistan: an enemy of the United States and the West.
The real Pakistan is a breeding ground of Islamic holy war where, for about half the population, the only thing more intolerable than Western democracy is the prospect of a faux democracy led by a woman — indeed, a product of feudal Pakistani privilege and secular Western breeding whose father, President Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, had been branded as an enemy of Islam by influential Muslim clerics in the early 1970s.
The real Pakistan is a place where the intelligence services are salted with Islamic fundamentalists: jihadist sympathizers who, during the 1980s, steered hundreds of millions in U.S. aid for the anti-Soviet mujahideen to the most anti-Western Afghan fighters — warlords like Gilbuddin Hekmatyar whose Arab allies included bin Laden and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the stalwarts of today’s global jihad against America.
The real Pakistan is a place where the military, ineffective and half-hearted though it is in combating Islamic terror, is the thin line between today’s boiling pot and what tomorrow is more likely to be a jihadist nuclear power than a Western-style democracy.
In that real Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto’s murder is not shocking. There, it was a matter of when, not if.
It is the new way of warfare to proclaim that our quarrel is never with the heroic, struggling people of fill-in-the-blank country. No, we, of course, fight only the regime that oppresses them and frustrates their unquestionable desire for freedom and equality.
Pakistan just won’t cooperate with this noble narrative.
Whether we get round to admitting it or not, in Pakistan, our quarrel is with the people. Their struggle, literally, is jihad. For them, freedom would mean institutionalizing the tyranny of Islamic fundamentalism. They are the same people who, only a few weeks ago, tried to kill Benazir Bhutto on what was to be her triumphant return to prominence — the symbol, however dubious, of democracy’s promise. They are the same people who managed to kill her today. Today, no surfeit of Western media depicting angry lawyers railing about Musharraf — as if he were the problem — can camouflage that fact.
In Pakistan, it is the regime that propounds Western values, such as last year’s reform of oppressive, Sharia-based Hudood laws, which made rape virtually impossible to prosecute — a reform enacted despite furious fundamentalist rioting that was, shall we say, less well covered in the Western press. The regime, unreliable and at times infuriating, is our only friend. It is the only segment of Pakistani society capable of confronting militant Islam — though its vigor for doing so is too often sapped by its own share of jihadist sympathizers.
Yet, we’ve spent two months pining about its suppression of democracy — its instinct not further to empower the millions who hate us.
For the United States, the question is whether we learn nothing from repeated, inescapable lessons that placing democratization at the top of our foreign policy priorities is high-order folly.
The transformation from Islamic society to true democracy is a long-term project. It would take decades if it can happen at all. Meanwhile, our obsessive insistence on popular referenda is naturally strengthening — and legitimizing — the people who are popular: the jihadists. Popular elections have not reformed Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon. Neither will they reform a place where Osama bin Laden wins popular opinion polls and where the would-be reformers are bombed and shot at until they die.
We don’t have the political will to fight the war on terror every place where jihadists work feverishly to kill Americans. And, given the refusal of the richest, most spendthrift government in American history to grow our military to an appropriate war footing, we may not have the resources to do it.
But we should at least stop fooling ourselves. Jihadists are not going to be wished away, rule-of-lawed into submission, or democratized out of existence. If you really want democracy and the rule of law in places like Pakistan, you need to kill the jihadists first. Or they’ll kill you, just like, today, they killed Benazir Bhutto.