Late this summer, General Pervez Musharraf -- Pakistan's self-appointed president and chief executive -- delivered yet another devastating blow to the country's democratic prospects. At an August 21 press conference, Musharraf announced 29 new amendments to the constitution that vastly strengthened the powers of the military and the executive. Among other prerogatives, these amendments gave the president (who will be Musharraf for at least the next five years, thanks to the fraud-ridden "referendum" held in April) the power to dismiss Pakistan's legislature -- effectively making all of parliament's actions subject to his approval. Another innovation, the National Security Council, formally institutionalized the already pervasive role of the military in the country's politics.
Musharraf's fiats were just the latest in a 45-year-long saga of military assaults on Pakistan's body politic. For most of its history, the country's military -- often with the complicity of other key elements of the Pakistani state, such as the civilian bureaucracy and even, on occasion, the judiciary -- has seemed intent only on maintaining its own prospects and prerogatives. This single-minded determination has brought the country several coups, ill-considered alliances, and disastrous military operations against India.
Musharraf himself came to power in one such coup, in October 1999. The general took office promising to restore order, instill probity in public life, and promote social justice. But his dictatorial predecessors had made similar pledges, and Pakistan's military regimes have never delivered long-term economic prosperity or political stability. Instead, they have consistently skewed the distribution of wealth and income, made the development of honest and effective political parties nearly impossible, undermined the independence of the judiciary, and exacerbated the underlying weaknesses of the Pakistani state. And so far Musharraf's rule has offered no exception to this depressing trend.
This time, however, Washington cannot afford to ignore the mismanagement in Islamabad. Pakistan's sorry status quo and uncertain future are of critical significance. As the United States seeks to uproot the remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban, it remains acutely dependent on Pakistan's