WASHINGTON—During his eight-year rule, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has not been able to deliver the promise he made after staging his bloodless coup in 1999—order and stability. He has delivered a pro-Western regime and collaborated with American and European intelligence agencies pursuing terrorists around the world, but he has not been able to bring under control the many areas in which terrorist groups, fundamentalist organizations and separatist movements are active. Nor has he been able to legitimize his rule among the 165 million people who make up Pakistani society.

And he has not even been able to weed out the anti-Western members of the Pakistani military who seem to be turning a blind eye to many of the trouble-makers who are trying to turn the country into a bastion of Islamic fundamentalism.

So what exactly makes this guy the best guarantee that Pakistan will not end up as a failed state with some 50 nuclear weapons controlled by a man, Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai, surrounded by political and military enemies who resent the fact that Musharraf has kept Kidwai in his post well past the age of retirement?

The tribal areas in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province are dominated by al-Qaeda and the Taliban. That is the reason why the latter group is so strong in southern Afghanistan and why the al-Qaeda machinery that was decimated after 9/11 is now growing stronger.

Peshawar is a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism and arms smuggling—precisely what Musharraf says he wants to eradicate. The general justified imposing martial law (“a state of emergency”) and dismissing various members of the Supreme Court on Nov. 3 with the argument that he needs to fight fundamentalism more effectively. But for years he has heaped privilege on minor religious parties closely tied to extremists—including favoring them in the rigged 2002 elections—in order to marginalize the two dominant political organizations and create for himself a civilian base of support.

Musharraf never complained about the Supreme Court until the chief justice took an independent stance against his efforts to perpetuate his dictatorial rule. Nor were the opposition parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League, a hindrance in the pursuit of fundamentalist terrorists: The leaders, former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, were in exile, their organizations were severely repressed and their stance against religious violence was unmistakable.

As if that were not enough, the province of Baluchistan is full of separatists who are becoming more assertive by the day in the region where Pakistan meets Iran and Afghanistan. For years, the Baluchis have resisted the military’s attempts to establish a centralized dominance over every part of their territory. Musharraf has failed in Baluchistan too. Since 2006, there have been countless incidents in which soldiers have been killed by local groups.

Finally, Musharraf, who lied about his intentions to step down as head of the army and get himself re-elected, has alienated every civilian institution in the country—the reason why he has rounded up thousands of people, including lawyers and human rights activists, in recent weeks and taken news outlets off the air. In fact, he has achieved what would have seemed impossible two or three years ago by making Bhutto and Sharif popular again, revitalizing their organizations which were widely seen as having corrupted democracy and set the stage for Musharraf’s popular coup in 1999.

Force has theoretically been in place for eight years, and the result has been a country more dysfunctional and torn by centrifugal currents than ever. Addressing that failure by sending the tanks onto the streets, throwing people in jail and muzzling the media is not a way of making that right. It is an attempt to hide it under the carpet—in full view of the whole world. It’s not force, but the illusion of force—the Pakistani state appears weaker than ever, reliant exclusively on the men in uniform now loathed by the majority of Pakistanis.

It’s not clear whether a democratic government will be much better than Musharraf has been at creating the kind of order and stability that comes from the people trusting and respecting the institutions that govern them. But it surely cannot be worse than this.