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Stabroek News

No Thanksgiving for Pakistan
published: Sunday | November 25, 2007

Ian Boyne, Contributor

As the Americans celebrated their Thanksgiving last Thursday, no doubt thanking God for their Manifest Destiny as the Shining City on a Hill, spreading democracy and freedom to the world, it must have been of concern that their front-line Asian state in the war on terror was deepening its autocracy with a state of emergency.

Pakistan has for the last six years especially been an embarrassment to the United States, the vaunted leader of the 'Free World' and the light-bringer of liberty to the dark places of earth. The chief exponent of free elections finds itself in bed with a man who seized power through a military coup eight years ago and who is now its main ally in making the world safe for democracy.

General Pervez Musharraf has refused over these eight years to take off his uniform and return his country to democracy, using the usual canard of ensuring political stability to justify his continued contempt for democratic rule and civilian politics. It's a familiar story, replayed with sickening repetition, and with the complicity of the United States in many instances.

New course of action

Before the right-wing patriots descend on me, let me quote no less an authority than U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who admitted in June 2005 that "for 60 years my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region in the Middle East, and we achieved neither." Well said. She went on to make a pledge. "Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people."

Well, tell that to the nearly 160 million Pakistanis who have seen Washington pour US$10 billion to prop up dictator Musharraf since September 11, 2001. Now, presidential candidates in the U.S. race are weighing in on the stark embarrassment faced by the Bush administration and some are calling for a total cut-off of assistance to the military regime there.

In a November 11 article, republished by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow, Mohammad Bazzi says, "If anyone in the Muslim world still believed the Bush administration's historic promise to support democracy over political expediency, those hopes are being shattered with the crisis unfolding in Pakistan." Continues Bazzi, "If ever there was clear-cut case for the administration to put action into rhetoric, this is it."

The U.S., of course, had urged Musharraf not to take the course of declaring an emergency, but Musharraf, knowing how vital he is to the U.S. war on terror, and how terrified the Bush administration is about losing that war, knows he has the handle for the time being. That is why he could afford to defy the U..S and to tell the New York Times bluntly, "I totally disagree with her," in reference to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"This emergency is to ensure that the elections go in an undisturbed manner," the dictator said. Indeed, he has announced elections for early January and might even lift the emergency before then. The fact is he has already achieved his main purpose for declaring the emergency. The emergency was declared not to deal with insurgents, terrorists or potential destabilisers. His emergency was not to deter terrorism, but to deter democracy.

The emergency was declared to give Musharraf the powers to sack the country's chief justice who has been a thorn in his side. Earlier in the year, the military dictator had ousted Chief Justice Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhry, but after widespread civil society and street protests, carried live by Pakistani television, Musharraf was forced to reinstate him.

Protecting his interest

But Chaudhry and the Supreme Court were about to declare his recent election as president illegal. So, he invested himself with emergency powers and booted the chief justice and 12 of the 16 supreme court judges, making way for his own stooges who will ratify his election and be in place for his January polls where his interests can be protected.

Musharraf's emergency action was a barefaced and blatant attack on the last vestiges of democratic order in Pakistan. Since then he has imposed restrictions on the media, put hundreds of politicians, lawyers, journalists, and civil society activists in jail and house arrest. "This was a military coup, President Musharraf's second in less than a decade. In 1999 his target was the elected Government; this time it is the judiciary, the obstacle to his indefinite rule over Pakistan," says the respected Christian Science Monitor on November 6.

The Commonwealth has rightly ejected Pakistan from its midst, but the international community has to do more than show its disapproval while calling for the lifting of the emergency. The international community must demand that Musharraf show respect for the rule of law by reinstating the sacked judges, including the chief justice. Replacing people of integrity with loyalists and people who will turn a blind eye to corruption is unacceptable.

If the elections take place even without the emergency, but without a credible judiciary, then that would be affront to democracy. The raw assertion of military power over constitutional rule must be rejected, and the United States and the international community must not be intimidated by howls about "interference in our domestic affairs", a regular fig leaf used to cover up the nakedness of autocratic regimes.

In addition to the violation of the Supreme Court, nearly 50 per cent of the judges of the provincial high courts have been stripped of their positions. The entire Pakistani judiciary is under attack - and the judiciary is the heart of any democratic system. The United States, Europe, the Commonwealth and the international community at large cannot afford this rape of democracy to take place while Musharraf goes ahead with his elections in January. The U.S. must exert its diplomatic power, isolate the general and work with moderate elements in the army to restore true democracy.

Refusing to learn

If the U.S. - yet again - finds itself on the side of the people's oppressor, then it will lose, yet again, and have an even larger country than Iraq up in arms literally and otherwise against the administration. The U.S. must learn something from its history of diplomatic and policy blunders.

Says Bazzi in his Council on Foreign Relations piece, "When the United States continues to support autocrats like Musharraf against the will of the people, then it loses much of its leverage to demand reform from other repressive regimes like Iran and Syria. Even more importantly, favouring stability over democracy will come back to haunt America in the long term."

While Pakistan has been under military rule for the past eight years, it has not been a complete autocracy as the Pakistani media have been allowed to function more or less freely.

In fact, in the latest Columbia Journalism Review (November-December) there is a long piece on 'Musharraf's Monster' with the sub-title, 'In Pakistan, independent TV is young, powerful and biting that fed it.' That is, until the emergency powers. Musharraf has been clever in stifling those elements in the society which could ensure that he does eventually take off the uniform.

The emergency powers are not aimed at Islamists and terrorists. It is to aimed to quell civil society opposition. Pakistan's economic problems and social woes have been alienating the President from the people, and even in the army his support is slipping.

Musharraf is whipping up the common fears used by people like Egypt's Mubarak - Either me or the Islamists. And with the obsession of the Bush administration with the war on terror, that red flag brings results.

Instability is not good

What is clear is that instability in Pakistan is not good for anyone except the Islamists. Says the September issue of the Middle East Review of International Affairs "Ultimately, a politically unstable nuclear Pakistan threatens a highly volatile region in which there have been changes in government and politics (Bangladesh and Nepal), increased military pending (China), questions over economic development and policy direction (India) and internal conflict brought about by rampant terrorist and counter-terrorist activity (Sri Lanka and Afghanistan)."

In the article titled, 'The Crisis of Pakistan: A Dangerously Weak State', the author says, "Pakistan is a weak state bordering on failure. The longer Pakistan remains in this vulnerable position the more powerful the Islamists will become. It is, therefore, essential that Musharraf deal effectively with the Islamists, the provinces (ethno-nationalists), the complaints of neglect (high levels of poverty) and the lack of democracy."

If the U.S. does not do the right strategic thing and exert its influence to push Musharraf aside, however discreetly, then it might by default be strengthening the Islamists.The U.S. hopes the moderate Benazir Bhutto will be the woman in the breach, but if she is seen as an ally of the U.S. that could alienate her from the people.

The U.S. has so lost its credibility and soft power than for any member of an oppressed group to be associated with the U.S. is to invite the suspicion or ire from the people. The U.S. must learn from the past: General Ayub Khan, Pakistan's first military dictator in the 1960s gained the U.S. support by playing the anti-communist card in the Cold War. General Zia ul-Haq, another military ruler, used the crisis of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan to co-opt support from the Americans.

The end result

We know where those led - The break-up of Pakistan and the export of religious extremism all over Asia and the Middle East.

The Washington Post, in an article on Wednesday titled, 'Where we went wrong in Pakistan', quotes a senior Bush official as saying, "We should have pushed harder over the years because in the end we need the people to be anti-extremist, not just General Musharraf." Asks the Post, "Is Musharraf more like Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino dictator deposed in favour of a democracy? Or is he a Shah of Iran whose fall resulted in a radical, anti-American regime?"

The United States must act wisely and expeditiously - lest it get the answer it does not want.

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