Morning Report: February 19, 2008

Change is afoot in Cuba and Pakistan.

Castro steps down. Fidel Castro, Cuba's dictator for almost 50 years, has announced his retirement. Fox News: 'The end of Castro's rule — the longest in the world for a head of government — frees his 76-year-old brother Raul to implement reforms he has hinted at since taking over as acting president when Fidel Castro fell ill in July 2006.' Fausta has a roundup. Babalu has the complete text. Excerpt:
Ha llegado el momento de postular y elegir al Consejo de Estado, su Presidente, Vicepresidentes y Secretario.

Desempeñé el honroso cargo de Presidente a lo largo de muchos años. El 15 de febrero de 1976 se aprobó la Constitución Socialista por voto libre, directo y secreto de más del 95% de los ciudadanos con derecho a votar. La primera Asamblea Nacional se constituyó el 2 de diciembre de ese año y eligió el Consejo de Estado y su Presidencia. Antes había ejercido el cargo de Primer Ministro durante casi 18 años. Siempre dispuse de las prerrogativas necesarias para llevar adelante la obra revolucionaria con el apoyo de la inmensa mayoría del pueblo.

Conociendo mi estado crítico de salud, muchos en el exterior pensaban que la renuncia provisional al cargo de Presidente del Consejo de Estado el 31 de julio de 2006, que dejé en manos del Primer Vicepresidente, Raúl Castro Ruz, era definitiva. El propio Raúl, quien adicionalmente ocupa el cargo de Ministro de las F.A.R. por méritos personales, y los demás compañeros de la dirección del Partido y el Estado, fueron renuentes a considerarme apartado de mis cargos a pesar de mi estado precario de salud. ...

The Belmont Club observes:
Castro's letter confesses to a long health crisis; of which he was unsure he'd emerge alive. He apparently came through better than he hoped. But the sands were running out for him. And although he casts his resignation as the selfless act of a man determined to give way to younger leaders, a close reading of his letter indicates that he still hoped to hang on until it became plain his strength was no longer equal to his desire for power.

Ominously, Castro has no intention of giving up his power entirely. He intends to remain, like some kind of spectral force, the voice behind the curtain.

Musharraf's party concedes defeat. Elections in Pakistan brought an end to the government's support of President Pervez Musharraf. Fox News: 'Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror.' Telegraph: 'Opposition parties led by the son of assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif appear to have defeated President Pervez Musharraf, according to early results from Pakistan's parliamentary elections.' Meanwhile, the US is less concerned about obtaining permission for actions in Pakistan. MSNBC: 'It is an approach that some U.S. officials say could be used more frequently this year, particularly if a power vacuum results from yesterday's election and associated political tumult.' John Widmer at Random Jottings has some thoughts about moderate Pakistan. (Huh? "Moderate Pakistan?" Well, you never know.)
I can't say how much weight one should put on this article, Islam Needs Democracy, by Waleed Ziad, but it's damned interesting. I'd keep it in mind. As a general rule, I'd opine that whenever you hear that some country or group or movement is unified, monolithic (and supposedly unbeatable by us disorganized folks) you should be very skeptical.

And here's Waleed Ziad:
The only long-term solution may lie in the hands of an overlooked natural ally in the war on terrorism: the Pakistani people.

This may come as a surprise to Americans, but the Wahhabist religion professed by the militants is more foreign to most Pakistanis than Karachi's 21 KFCs. This is true even of the tribal North-West Frontier Province.

... So when the Taliban bomb shrines and hair salons, or ban videos and music, it doesn't go down well. A resident of the Swat region, the site of many recent Taliban incursions, proudly told me last month that scores of citizens in his village had banded together to drive out encroaching militants. Similarly, in the tribal areas, many local village councils, called jirgas, have summoned the Pakistani Army or conducted independent operations against extremists.

Commentary. I don't want to get too exited, but this news from Pakistan sure looks like a good thing. Here's an excerpt from the latest article at the Telegraph:
The result also restored some faith in the electoral process as the poll was broadly deemed to be fair.

An alliance of religious conservative and clerics was also ousted from power in two of Pakistan's four provinces.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q, said his party had accepted the defeat.

"We accept the results with an open heart," he said, conceding that he would be sitting on the opposition benches in a new-look parliament.

This passage, if factually true, tells you a lot: that the election was widely regarded as fair, that an islamist coalition has lost power, and that the outgoing ruling party has conceded defeat.

And despite media blather about a defeat for Washington's "ally in the war on terror" (and, by extension, a defeat for Bush), the obvious fact is that President Bush treated Musharraf as an "ally" only because he was in power - more or less - and was valuable, more or less, in that role. Now,
Despite warnings of rigging in the lead up to the poll, Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee which observed the election, said the elections were credible.

He said that the results offered an opportunity for the United States to shift to a Pakistan policy less focused on Mr Musharraf.

See above. This, too, will be a good thing.