It would be a mistake to regard General Musharraf's emergency rule as anything more than a transparently self-interested attack on Pakistan's constitution. I have read the Foreign Secretary's observations, and without finding any discrete part of them exceptionable I consider the overall message feeble. It is not useful to urge a common message of restraint on the opposition politicians who are being arrested and the military ruler who issued the order for the arrest. (As you might expect, the Tories are no more a model of leadership on the issue. When asked by Andrew Rawnsley on ITV's Sunday Edition this morning what the government ought to be doing, David Davis replied: "Well I think they can express their views pretty strongly to [Musharraf] and I think they’re doing that to be fair to them. I think Mr Miliband’s done it already. I think the Americans have also expressed [in] pretty strong terms their disappointment.")
I may be wrong on this, but I suspect that if Tony Blair were still PM the message would have been stronger. Blair is often criticised for his "democratic globalism", and while I militantly identify with the thrust of his foreign policies I do regard it as a weakness of Blairism that it fails to distinguish among different orders of threat. (The example I usually give is that Iran's nuclear adventurism and support for terrorism are a more immediate threat than North Korea's, even though North Korea is unquestionably the more repressive state. There is a genuine axis of Islamist terror, whereas there is no axis of Juche terror - merely a psychopathic despot who is personally responsible for numerous terrorist acts, such as the bombing of KAL flight 857 in 1987.) Nonetheless, judged against the foreign policy quiescence of his predecessor, John Major, and foreign counterparts Clinton, Chirac and Schroeder, Blair's was a weakness in the right direction. Above all, Tony Blair was right in identifying the perpetuation of autocracy as a stimulus for Islamist terrorism. As he said, in an excellent speech (which I attended) to the Foreign Policy Centre last year, our counter-terrorist stand is "a struggle between democracy and violence".
Pakistan is a prime case of the truth of Blair's analysis. Islamist extremism was given impetus not by any inherent attractions to the populace but by the actions of military rulers and corrupt politicians. Not till the 1970s did religious parties become prominent in Pakistan, when prime minister Zulkifar Ali Bhutto, in a shameless search for political allies, pushed through various measures to increase the influence of the parties Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam and Jamiat-i-Islami in civil society. When the military ruler General Zia ul Haq deposed Bhutto in 1977, the precedent had been established, and monstrous acts of sharia "justice", including amputation of limbs, became commonplace. When democracy returned a decade later, nothing was done to arrest the growth of militant Islamic influence into politics and civil society: Benazir Bhutto even formed a coalition government with one of those extremist parties. And under all of these governments, the place of Islamist ideology in the education system has increased.
One thing that the Bush administration has apparently not realised, and has certainly not given sufficient weight to, is that since his seizure of power in 1999, General Musharraf has been far from a reliable opponent of terrorism. His regime has got far more out of its alliance with the US - in aid, debt relief and, most important and unprincipled, a softening of the accurate perception of Pakistan as a terrorist-supporting state - than the western alliance has got out of him. There have admittedly been successes in police operations against Islamist terrorist cells and our own police have benefited from these actions. Those terrorists have in almost every case been foreign cells: transplanted Islamists, rather than Pakistanis, which is where the real problem lies.
Back to the question of priorities. After 9/11, to have seen Musharraf as an autocrat whose removal was as urgent as Saddam Hussein's or the Taliban's would plainly have been unrealistic (if not entirely perverse). But to have invested faith - which seems the right term - in him as an ally against Islamist fanaticism is reminiscent of earlier American treatment of the Shah of Iran. (The feckless President Carter is often recalled in this context, but Ronald Reagan - a man of far greater ideological chaos than his conservative adulators acknowledge - was no more perceptive. When visiting Tehran in April 1978, then Governor Reagan remarked that "above all we should know that Iran has been and is a staunch friend and ally of the US". The remark is quoted in The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order, 1964-1980 by Steven Hayward, 2001, p. 555; Hayward, I should add, is a Reagan partisan and doesn't appear to see anything wrong in the sentiment.) It was neither principled nor prudent, and has done no favours to our real and reliable ally in the region, the multi-ethnic democracy of India, which is - as we are - a target of Islamist terrorism because of what she represents. We need to change policy unmistakably and decisively; changing declaratory policy, by describing accurately what Musharraf is doing, would be a place to start.
UPDATE: James Forsyth, on The Spectator's "Coffee House" blog, maintains: "The Bush administration’s decision to put so much stock in Musharraf, a dictator who by his own admission only offered support for the war on terror when he realised that Pakistan could not 'confront [the United States] and withstand the onslaught', could turn out to be the biggest strategic mistake of the war on terror to date."