To the Editor:

I must disagree with some key areas of Daniel Markey's thought-provoking essay ("A False Choice in Pakistan," July/August 2007). General Pervez Musharraf is indeed suffering from a legitimacy crisis, but it has little to do with the matter of elections. It is due to the perception that his government is almost as corrupt and power hungry as that of his predecessors. Initially, Musharraf enjoyed great popular support: Pakistanis were literally celebrating in the streets after the 1999 military coup that overthrew the democratically elected but extremely corrupt and incompetent government of Nawaz Sharif.

However, far from curbing domestic corruption, Musharraf has gradually allowed into his administration some of the most corrupt members of former administrations. The recently suspended chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, first gained public acclaim when he annulled the privatization of the government-owned Pakistan Steel Mills, part of an alleged sweetheart deal that benefited parties very close to high-ranking cabinet members. Although Musharraf has not been accused of corruption himself, his credibility in the eyes of many Pakistanis is now minimal -- especially after the May 12 killings, carried out by his political allies, of people who came out to support the suspended chief justice.

What most Pakistanis want foremost is not elections but the rule of law and for their government not to serve as a vehicle for the personal enrichment of a few. Because high levels of corruption among Pakistani politicians and civil servants has been the norm for decades, no democratically elected government is likely to be an improvement over the current one. The only hope for Pakistan is for Washington to press Musharraf to step down gracefully and have the military install a civilian caretaker government of competent technocrats. This was done successfully in 1993 (but the caretaker government only lasted three months) and less successfully in 1996-97. Today, a caretaker government would need the Supreme Court's assent for extending the constitutionally mandated three-month limit put on such governments and at least two to three years to effect lasting change.

The caretaker administration's sole charge would be to rebuild the basic institutions and infrastructure of good governance. If reliable electricity and water services can be restored to cities, trash collected, roads paved, schools built and staffed, citizens protected from being shaken down by every government servant they meet, and jobs generated, then the government will have created its own legitimacy.

Feisal Khan

  • Assistant Professor of Economics, Hobart and William Smith Colleges