Pakistan - Voices of Democracy
Irfan Husain, Dawn, January 4, 2003
The reality of power in Pakistan is that the army has controlled the destiny of the nation for most of its existence, and is likely to continue doing so in the foreseeable future. The invisible 'agencies' have huge, unaudited budgets and manipulate and malign politicians and control sections of the press. Incidentally, all this is a matter of public record: names of politicians and journalists who have received cash handouts from the exchequer have been published many times without any action being taken against those making the payments and those receiving them.
Under these circumstances, how can democracy possibly function? And if it can't, what difference does it make who occupies the prime minister's house in Islamabad?
One major problem with the army's role is that as an institution, it is convinced that its interest is identical to the national interest which it has defined without any semblance of a public debate. This leads to the conclusion that to justify our bloated defence budget, Pakistan needs an enemy. In our case, this means India. The logical inference to be drawn from this line of reasoning is that the Kashmir issue will never be resolved."
Daily Times, January 18, 2003
Despite promises by President General Pervez Musharraf to stamp out extremist Islam and terrorism, Jihad Inc is doing roaring business in the country. In the past few weeks, Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of Jaish-e-Muhammad, and Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, both organisations banned in Pakistan, were freed from detention on the orders of the Lahore High Court. A report in The Economist said the government seemed unable to convince the court that the two were a threat to public order.
… Meanwhile, at Friday prayers at mosques throughout Pakistan, the virtues of jihad are preached. Muslims are urged to resist all infidels, especially those supporting "America’s crusade against Islam in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya and Afghanistan". Possible waverers get sinister warnings. The mullah at a Lahore mosque during Ramadan last November actually screamed that "all those Muslims who do not pray five times a day should be killed"… The outlawed organisations of Mr Azhar and Mr Saeed have simply changed their names. They seem to have plenty of money; they are setting up new offices, enlisting fresh recruits to their cause and training them in not-so-secret camps across the country. In fairly literate Pakistan (43%) there is plenty for a zealot to read. There are at least 40 jihadi publications in the vernacular, Urdu, including six weeklies, four fortnightlies and 30 monthly magazines.
Ayaz Amir, Dawn, December 27, 2002
… In the run-up to the elections Gen Musharraf and his team of oligarchs turned their attention to the country's Constitution. Sorely abused over the years, this document went perhaps through its most trying experience then. Musharraf had already declared himself president for five more years following the referendum. But that was not considered enough. The Constitution was further amended to give him more powers, thus reducing the prime minister to the position of a parliamentary figurehead.
In the pre-election phase every rule in the book was bent (or broken) to give the advantage to the Q League. In defense of this motley assembly of fair-weather birds, it has been said that if it had official patronage why did it not win an outright majority. The answer is simple. Bereft of official patronage, it would have faced the prospect of political extinction… After the polls came the comic opera of government formation at the centre and in the provinces. The nation watched these games through jaded eyes. Why jaded? Because starting from the Q League and the referendum down to the October elections, the Pakistani public was exposed to so much that it lost the capacity of amazement. Nothing could surprise it any more.
Ayaz Amir, Dawn, December 20, 2002
When dictators or rulers – the same thing in our case – turn lazy or find themselves short of answers, they come up with the magical phrase, 'Pakistan first'. After intoning it they feel they have resolved any moral or intellectual dilemmas they may be facing… Pakistan first’ also should mean taking a hard look at the role of the army in our national life. Should it be the army first or Pakistan first? Seeing the way the national security establishment has spread its wings, and the way the military continually expands the area of its privileges, it sometimes gets confusing to know what the true aim of national security is? To strengthen the nation's defences or keep the bishops of national security in clover?
The civilian government, alas, has nothing to do with this debate. Democracy and civilianization are still orphans in Pakistan. The adult decisions remain in army hands. So, ultimately, it is the army which has to define what 'Pakistan first' should mean - an empty catchphrase or a spur to some fresh thinking?"
Ayaz Amir, Dawn, October 18, 2002
The United States and General Pervez Musharraf, the best of friends, have done what on their own the people of Pakistan could never have. They have ensured the strong showing of the religious right – the six-party alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) – in the recent elections… This is not how it was supposed to happen. Remember that by cracking down on religious extremism and inveighing against the evils of madressah education General Musharraf was supposed to be taking Pakistan into the 'global mainstream', whatever this meant. He was supposed to be making Pakistan safe for a 'liberal' future. And smack in the centre of these beguiling notions comes the march of the MMA. Where did our calculators go wrong?
Lest anyone think the religious factor is a passing phenomenon in Pakistani politics, it is here to stay. The greyness of the military regime and the intellectual bankruptcy of the 'liberal' parties will ensure this. This is another one the nation owes General Musharraf. The very thing he was supposed to destroy has come to haunt and perhaps mock him at his own table… Inter-Services and Military Intelligence, which together constitute the real election commission of Pakistan, deserve to be applauded for this outcome….
Ayaz Amir, Dawn, November 23, 2001
How strange then that today they (the Islamist fundamentalists) should be demonised as the source of all our problems. Who held whom hostage? It was not the madrassas which forced any government to support the Taliban. This was a decision taken by the national security establishment in pursuit of ‘strategic depth’ and similar notions which have characterised our Afghan policy. The madrassas had it not in their power to hold the nation hostage. It was the army and the intelligence services which brooked no assault on the ‘obscurantist elements’ because they were seen as serving the ‘national interest’ – a bogey in whose name every last lunacy can be justified.
Benazir Bhutto, Socialist Affairs Online
Islamabad’s generals ruthlessly use the intelligence agencies to factionalise mainstream political parties. Their goal to undermine traditional political parties plays into the hands of religious extremists. They are free to campaign. Their leaders are released from prisons by compliant courts too afraid to free political prisoners belonging to democratic parties… The October elections orchestrated in Pakistan were a mockery of justice. Five different laws were promulgated by edict to prevent the leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party from freely participating. However, Mullah Omar’s tutor was allowed to participate. Today he is a member of the Pakistani Parliament. General Musharaf promised new faces for Pakistan’s future. The new face can be found in Mullah Omar’s tutor as well as the large number of persons elected under the banner of the religious parties. A significant number of these are battle hardened veterans of the Afghan Jihad… As the Musharaf régime tampered with the election result, it deliberately gave the religious parties the power they now enjoy.
… But Islamabad’s generals are betting on a different course. They are betting that the world is distracted by the violence in the Middle East and the weapons inspections in Baghdad. They are betting that the world community will sideline the cause of democracy in Pakistan. Maybe they are right. But if Islamabad’s nuclear armed military dictatorship is allowed to exploit the war on international terror to legitimise its domestic dictatorship, the threat from terrorists can only increase.
Zaheeruddin Dar, South Asia Tribune
There seems to be scant realization of the fact that Pakistan has done almost everything to entrench itself in a military-authoritarian order. Now it is almost, if not decidedly, impossible to have a democracy in this country… Of all countries attempting at democratization of their institutions and polity, Pakistan is the unlikeliest candidate. This county is proving more willing than any other to stay the present course of further militarization of its institutions than any other in the world. Its military has s entrenched itself in the political fort that now the society has to pay the highest ever cost for taking a turn toward democracy. Now Pakistan is like a patient that does not need prescription, but forced medication.
… Those who think that it is only the military that has a disorder in political approach toward democratization, are wrong, as they fail to take account of the fact that socially, Pakistan is a case of hate-democracy. The civilian population has been indoctrinated enough to hate democratic prescriptions… Living in pre-feudal and tribal social structures and a pre-industrial formation, generating only small and medium local finances for manufacture and distribution, more than 80 percent of Pakistanis are yet to taste any kind of democratic order.
Democracy is coming back to Pakistan, but of what kind is demonstrated by the ugly manipulation of the process by the military regime. All elections being held now are "properly" managed and systems have been placed in the right spots to ensure that no more surprise results upset the applecart. "Proper" arrangements have also been made to gather support for the pro-Musharraf house of cards… Freedom of expression and views does not come free of cost, even in a "democratic" Pakistan run by General Pervez Musharraf.
Tarique Niazi, www.satribune.com/archives/jun15_21_03/opinion_niazi.htm
General Musharraf is hyping to heaven the threat of "Talibanization" of Pakistan that he has craftily imagined to peddle fear at home and abroad, and shift the spotlight from his dictatorship to his invention: Talibanization. He is hop-scotching the country from Lahore to Kohat to Islamabad to explain the terror of this phantom menace. In Lahore, he spoke to the lawyers on the dangers of Talibanization. In Kohat, his audience was made up of both Pakistanis and international diplomats. In Islamabad, he limited his comments to the press. His relatively more significant address was made in Lahore to a tamed audience of lawyers… He offered them a stark choice: "Do you want a theocratic Pakistan or an Islamic Pakistan?" …When Gen. Musharraf asks his audiences to choose between a theocratic Pakistan and an Islamic Pakistan, he means to ask them to choose his dictatorship over his opposition. Theocracy and Talibanization are his code words for his democratic opposition led by liberal-left Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), center-right Pakistan Muslim League (PML), and a six-party religious alliance in Muttehidda Majlis-e-Aml.
Since October, 1999 when he seized power, he has been trafficking sleaze against the country’s two top leaders, who pose the main challenge to his dictatorship – Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif. So much so that his three and a half year in power has been a running commercial against the two. Through their character assassination, he hoped to erase their names from the collective memory of the Pakistani nation, and implant his own, instead. He has miserably failed at the first, but exceedingly succeeded at the second. Today, his name, which has become a handy stand-in for all that is wrong with Pakistan, is deeply etched on the memory of every Pakistani… All those who care about democracy in Pakistan know that Gen. Musharraf is pushing Pakistan into Talibanization and theocracy by standing in the way of liberal-left and center-right parties of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML). The longer he stays in power, the likelier will become the Talibanization of Pakistan.
I have long argued that politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and that by trying to sideline the mainstream, moderate parties, Gen. Musharraf would inevitably pave the way for the immoderate religious parties. This lesson should have been learnt by now but it wasn't. When the establishment got rid of Benazir Bhutto in 1990, it made way for Nawaz Sharif. When it got rid of Sharif in 1993, it made way for Bhutto. When it got rid of Bhutto in 1996, it made way for Sharif. But when Musharraf got rid of Sharif in 1999 and started to hound Bhutto as well, he made way for the MMA [Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of six Islamist political parties]…. But there is a more cynical view that may gain currency. Maybe this is just what the establishment wanted. Two critical provinces bordering Afghanistan with the anti-American MMA [in power] so that the establishment can drive a hard bargain with Washington. And coalition governments in the other two provinces in which pro-establishment minorities or majorities can keep "democracy" in check.
Ahmed Rashid, Far Eastern Economic Review, June 19, 2003
The Pakistan military has long given strategic and covert support to the country's Islamic fundamentalists, but that policy appears to be backfiring as the religious radicals mount a challenge to central power. This, coupled with President Pervez Musharraf's failure to win parliamentary support for the military's continuing political dominance, has led to fears that he may be on the verge of dissolving democratic legislatures and reimposing military rule nearly four years after overthrowing an elected government in a bloodless coup. "The present army leadership has developed utter contempt for civilians and democracy," says a retired general who used to be close to Musharraf. "It's a very dangerous situation for Pakistan and the region."
… the crisis is almost entirely of the military's making, as it refuses to share real power with civilians, insists on being the only decision-maker and covertly arms the fundamentalists to fight its proxy wars in Kashmir and, allegedly, Afghanistan. "The army has wilfully distorted the political system and denied space to secular parties and civil society while favouring the fundamentalists," says Samina Ahmed, regional director of the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think-tank. For decades Pakistani generals and politicians raised the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism to elicit Western support for their regimes. That, allegedly, is why the military helped the MMA win power in North West Frontier Province. In fact, the country's rulers cultivated the militants as a vital foreign-policy tool, especially in dealings with India--the Islamic warriors waged the war to reunify Kashmir that Pakistan's army could not do itself.