Sunday December 30 2007 : Pakistan : Much more is needed to save Pakistan. By Djimé Adoum, Chad-news.info
In its November 2007 edition, the Economist cover page had a cartoon of President Musharraf with a big title : « Time’s up, Mr Musharraf ».
A little history. Pakistan has been independent for 60 years and power never changed hands peacefully. Leaders are ousted either through violent coups, hanged, or put in jail. Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan, the country’s first prime minister, was assassinated in 1951. The country has not seen stability since then. Ms. Bhutto’s father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who ruled Pakistan from 1971 through 1977, was hanged, presumably under orders from General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who was also killed in a presumed aircraft crash in 1988. Nawaz Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto were both prime ministers. They were accused of corruption. Mr. Sharif was jailed before fleeing the country. Ms. Bhutto left the country for a self-imposed exile until her return on November 6, 2007, followed by her assassination on December 27, 2007. This historical and sad trend may have not seen its end.
Current state of affairs. Since the horrific acts of terrorism of September 11, 2001, General Musharraf has become the undisputed friend of the US and Britain in the fight against terrorism, particularly Al Qaeda. This friendship netted General Musharraf and the military establishment roughly $US 11 billion, not small change. Armed with the financial and military resources from the US and Britain, President Musharraf was a full partner in the fight against terrorism.
In addition to the fight against terrorism, President Musharraf also took advantage of the unconditional support from the US and clamped down on domestic opposition to his autocratic rule. He sacked the Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The lawyers protested and forced General Musharraf to reinstate Chief Justice Chaudhry. He removed him later and packed the Supreme Court with his handpicked judges. America and Britain looked the other way and Pakistan has descended progressively into the abyss.
Given this state of chaos, something else needed to be done quickly to stave off Pakistan’s decent into hell. General Musharraf abandoned his military uniform to become the civilian leader but unhappiness about his autocratic rule did not relent. Most observers agree that the US had to find a different way to help the General save face. Ms. Bhutto had to be convinced to go back home to take part in the up- coming legislative elections with the hope that she might become the prime minister and with her popularity, she might be able to slow down the chaos. She knew the road ahead was not without hazards. An assassination attempt on her life took place the day of her return and left about 140 dead. She was assassinated barely one month later. Her assassination throws Pakistan into additional chaos and casts a severe shadow on the responsability of the Pakistani Governement of President Musharraf, at least with respect to the amount of security provided to protect her. It is not known at this time if elections scheduled for January 8 will be held. At least the majority of the Pakistani people are grieving her tragic death and according to most news and analyses, elections are unlikely. Ms. Bhutto ‘s party leadership will be meeting today to designate her successor. Mr. Nawaz Shariff has already declared his non participation and has asked the leadership of Ms. Bhutto’s party to join him in the boycott.
While the entire world is in shock about the tragic event, the US secretary of state stated that elections should be held to honor the spirit of the late Ms. Bhutto. Contrary to US policy makers’ belief that elections if held as scheduled will be beneficial and bring stability to Pakistan, it is highly unlikely that this will occur. It is quite obvious that there is no democracy in Pakistan. The example of the Pakistani Supreme Court is a prime case. Rather than heightening false hope about the good that might come out of free and fair elections, the US might be better off helping the country calm down. It is also fully known that the Pakistani militairy wields significant power in Pakistan. As has been shown, the generals always come in and throw out political leaders if and when a scandal breaks out around democratically elected leaders. Democracy is neither a cure nor a panacea to all ills. Strong and independent institutions are needed to provide the stability required for democracy to take root and become fully functional. As long as the Pakistani military yields ultimate power, it is doubtful Pakistan woes will be gone any time soon.
In addition, the Pakistani people, as with so many other nascent democratic peoples, seem to think that once democracy is in place it will solve all political, economic and social ills. In fact, democracy is often slower to address individual issues than other forms of government – it requires dialogue, time, and compromise. This is generally not understood by populations that think that once a democratically elected government is in place, all their problems will be resolved. The U.S. and others are to blame for over-selling democracy and its benefits, without adequately acknowledging some of its characteristics that may make it less able to deal with economic and social issues as quickly as the hype has led people to believe.
The US found it meaningful to relax its pressure on President Musharraf when he abandoned his military uniform. As if this is enough to bring democracy to Pakistan, President Musharraf packed the Supreme Court with his cronies and there is no word from the US regarding this constitutional coup. If elections were to be held as scheduled, and given that the late Bhutto’s party is not participating as well as Mr. Shariff’s, what legitimacy would the results bring to the current mess? No additional analysis is needed. The outcome is quite obvious. Pakistan is an autocracy and holding elections on January 8 will not make it a democratic country. It takes a lot more than that. Delaying elections and stabilizing the country would do much more good than holding meaningless elections. In fact, such farcical representations regarding democratic processes cheapen and void true democracy, give false impressions of democracy to the Pakistani people (especially the less-educated majority), and ultimately lead to total disillusionment with this political formula called « democracy» since the way it is practiced in Pakistan is not democracy at all-but how are they to know that ?
It would rather be more meaningful to help Pakistan through these difficult times of mourning and postpone the elections until credible opposition is able to participate. Hurrying elections would just make it abondantly clear to the majority of the Pakistani people that the US and its allies have chosen General Musharraf over the rest of the people. If history is any guide, this is not a good option. The case of neighboring Iran and what happened after Shah Pahlavi was chased out of power by the Ayatollahs is a vivid example.
Indeed the time might not be opportune for General Musharraf to go, as titled by the Economist, but the opportunity to hold elections as scheduled is not there. May the soul of the late and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto rest in peace !