Islamabad -- Before I leave in a few hours, I wanted to jot down a few notes on what Pakistanis are saying about the United States in particular and the "West" in general.
The most common feeling toward the U.S. I have encountered is a kind of anger mixed with disappointment. Pakistanis are angry at the U.S. and consider it hypocritical because it has consistently supported dictatorship in Pakistan. Many are also baffled and furious because they see clearly the complicity of part of the Pakistani security forces with the Taliban on both sides of the border and cannot comprehend U.S. continued support for that same military.
They see a weak reaction by the U.S. to the virtual martial law decreed by General Musharraf. In particular they hear U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates say, "We are reviewing all of our assistance programs, although we are mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counterterrorism efforts." What they hear is, the U.S. will review its support for education and health programs, but it will continue its massive subsidy (an estimated $1 billion per year) to cover the cost of operations by the Pakistan military: the same military that has declared a pseudo-emergency (in reality, martial law), under which protesting lawyers have been beaten and hundreds of non-violent democratic political leaders arrested, while the militants continue their campaigns without hindrance.
Naturally conspiracy theories abound. [The following conspiracy theories are NOT endorsed by the author and should NOT be circulated all over the internet and attributed to the author, who is merely trying to convey some of the flavor of local discourse.] The U.S. wants the Pakistani Taliban to surround Islamabad so that it has the excuse it seeks to destroy Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Musharraf has promised the U.S. some sort of assistance in a war against Iran. And these are only the more plausible theories I have heard.
Let me describe the situation on the ground to which Musharraf has responded by suspending the constitution, arresting several senior judges, and detaining hundreds of non-violent democratic political leaders. According to sources in the Northwest Frontier Province, the Taliban (Afghan and Pakistani) have established an Islamic Emirate centered in Mirali, North Waziristan, the home base of Commander Jalaluddin Haqqani (Afghan Jadran from Khost) and his son Sirajuddin. This Emirate acknowledges Mullah Muhammad Umar as Amir, but it is mainly run by the Haqqanis, with the Pakistani Mehsud leader, Baitulah Mehsud of South Waziristan, as its main public face. The Emirate has established structures in all seven Tribal Agencies, though it is strongest in North and South Waziristan and has not penetrated the Shi'a areas of upper Kurram. Besides Pakistani and Afghan Pashtuns, its forces include the Uzbeks displaced from South Waziristan and others from the former USSR (collectively if not accurately called "Chechens"), whom the local people accuse of the greatest brutalities, such as the beheading of prisoners.
From these bases, the Emirate has launched its offensive in Swat and has infiltrated around Peshawar from several directions. Recently Taliban appeared in Qisakhani Bazaar in the old city of Peshawar and ordered traders to remove "un-Islamic" posters. There was no reaction from the police or administration. There are dozens of Taliban FM stations broadcasting calls to jihad in both the tribal agencies and the "settled" (administered) areas of NWFP. Not one of them has been shut down; instead the martial law regime has blocked transmissions of liberal cable television stations and blocked the Blackberry network used by the political elite.
Many if not most of my Pakistani interlocutors do not believe that the Pakistani military is using either martial law or U.S. assistance for "counter-terrorism." They believe it is using it to perpetuate its own power in the service of a national security project that serves neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan and is doing great harm to both. Any civilian government would, for the first time in Pakistan's history, assert its authority over formerly prohibited areas of policy: Afghanistan, Kashmir, the frontier agencies, perhaps even military expenditure. Therefore the generals fear, and international security interests demand, a rapid transition to civilian democratic rule.
As I understand them, the most urgent requests to foreign governments and organizations put forward by the Pakistani supporters of democracy whom I have met are: (1) Clear and strong condemnation of the state of emergency, which is only a thinly disguised form of martial law; (2) Termination of assistance, especially assistance going directly to the Pakistani military, until the constitution is restored and the democratic transition back on schedule; and (3) Use for the same purpose of all levers of U.S. and international influence, including suspension of ongoing military contracts.
My Pakistani interlocutors do not seem to fear the destabilizing effect of such measures nearly as much as they fear the destabilizing effect of a martial law regime. Unlike past martial law regimes, this one enjoys little popular support (though I met a few elite women who believe that only Musharraf will defend their rights effectively). Musharraf's rhetoric about fighting terrorism they largely see as an unconvincing and transparent disguise for maintaining his personal power and the dominant position of the army at the expense of the rule of law.
For a statement of some of these views by a leading Pakistani writer, see Ahmed Rashid in the Washington Post.