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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2709

What Democracy

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

Oh, what games they play in the name of democracy! Granted that as the oldest democracy in the world the US wants all countries to embrace it; and as the world’s largest democracy and one that with all its faults has done the country proud, India would wish to see democracy flourish in its neighbourhood, especially the traditionally troublesome ones.

The orchestrated cry for ‘restoration’ of democracy in Pakistan, however, looks a bit puzzling when experience shows that the difference between a civilian and military rule in that benighted country is hardly distinguishable. The recent steps taken by the military ruler of Pakistan do not assure the country’s movement towards democracy--as understood by most people other than some in Washington and Islamabad.

It was astounding that Washington promptly welcomed as ‘a positive step towards democracy’ the announcement by the Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, that nation-wide elections will be held by January 9—without lifting the emergency. Can any election in a country under a state of emergency be called free and fair? Any instrument that grants unrestricted powers to the ruler and stifle the voice of dissent by any means, as emergency does, has to be removed before the country can be said to be even remotely taking the path to democracy. It is autocracy.

Looking from an Indian context, the protests against Musharraf’s emergency looked half-hearted barring the agitation by lawyers. Musharraf demonstrated how hollow was his claim that he had no choice but to impose emergency to deal with the militants and extremists. He was rightly denounced for sending to jail his critics indiscriminately. But there was not even a murmur when just after declaring emergency his government released 28 militants from his western border areas--three of them top aides of the fugitive Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, allegedly in exchange for the release of over 200 soldiers who had surrendered before the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan weeks ago.

If a British newspaper report is correct, Musharraf’s jihad against higher judiciary has taken a salacious turn with some of the supreme court judges being secretly filmed by Pakistan’s infamous ISI in bed with their mistresses. The militants’ camp celebrated emergency proclamation by bombing the residence of a federal minister and firing rockets on an army base.

Perhaps not entirely unexpected, the principal opposition figure in Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, reportedly extended a guarded welcome to the election announcement by Musharraf. Bhutto’s democratic credentials have looked suspicious to many in her own country who think she is actually in cahoots with Musharraf. At times it is difficult to judge what kind of an opposition leader she is. Her criticism of the military ruler is often muted and indirect as against the more forthright attacks on Musharraf by all other opposition leaders and many civil society leaders. Indians would also find it very unusual that no matter how transient her arrest was it had failed to bring hordes of her supporters on to the streets—emergency or no emergency. Remember she is supposed to be Pakistan’s most charismatic politician.

The more she talks about the current situation in her country the more apparent it becomes that she is only reading out a script written in Washington, one that would have her—useful as a civilian face--share power with Musharraf, America’s most favourite military ruler in the world.

The charade played by Musharraf and Bhutto is becoming all too obvious. Bhutto wants the throne but knows it would be impossible without some help from the self-styled crusader against corruption and extremists Musharraf. The General played his part of the bargain by forgiving her for her many sins of commission and omission. (Apart from Pakistan, Bhutto faces corruption charges in the UK, Spain and Switzerland). At a time when political activists of nearly all descriptions in Pakistan were behind bars—on charges like spreading anarchy and treason--Mohtarma Bhutto was briefly confined to her palatial home and then allowed the freedom to move around. Many of the imprisoned lawyers were detained in containers!

Her ‘house arrest’ helped her prevent a likely embarrassment that could have been politically very damaging. A rally she was to address in Rawalpindi was not going to attract the multitude that she would have liked to be present as a show of her strength in a Punjabi town. She had to cancel that rally because of her ‘house arrest’. She kept an ambivalent attitude towards the crucial question of restoration of the nine ‘interfering’ supreme court judges ‘sacked’ by Musharraf on November 3 when he, the army chief, had staged history’s first coup against his own regime by clamping emergency.

All civilian governments in Pakistan have remained subservient to the all-powerful military. Democracy in Pakistan, if it is to be synonymous with the people’s rule, will be meaningful only after the wings of the Pakistani military are clipped. The last elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, tried to do so. The end result was that a four-star army general, handpicked by him, threw him out of power, slapped ‘treason’ charges on him and later with some help from such ‘democratic’ leaders as the king of Saudi Arabia made sure that he (Sharif) remained out of the country. The democrat that Musharraf is he has two different set of rules for Bhutto and Sharif.

In recent years there have been brief spells of ‘democracy’ and civilian rule in Pakistan when Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the two most prominent civilian politicians in that country, were prime ministers. India remembers their rule as one that had exported militancy with active assistance of the Pakistani army. The West, led by the United States of America, has always chosen to wink at the many roguish activities in Pakistan, not the least being nuclear proliferation and converting the country into the breeding ground for terrorism. So it need cause no surprise that the West would also be very happy to endorse the Musharraf version of ‘democracy’.

With Washington’s approval Pakistan will soon be certified to have ‘returned’ to democracy with a civilian Bhutto and a uniform-less Musharraf sharing power. But India and much of the outside world can be sure that things will not be radically different from what they are now in that ‘democracy’. Sprouting from its eternal cries for Kashmir, Pakistan under another civilian ruler will remain as inimical, overtly and covertly, towards India as in the past. Yes, the Indo-Pak temperature has come down in the last two years but the Pakistani establishment is in no mood to eradicate the core of enmity and distrust of India.

The Americans are by now known for pursuing foreign policy on the basis of self-made myths and beliefs and in a manner that generates deep distrust and hatred towards them even as they become shockingly indifferent to reading certain ominous writings on the wall. They saw weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that never existed and invaded the country with results that are clearly horrendous. They have been arming Pakistan to the teeth in the name of helping it fight terrorism knowing full well that the heart of the good General is not in fighting that war. That does not matter because Musharraf is about to patent a new brand of democracy, registered with George W. Bush in Washington.

- Syndicate Features -

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