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Nepal Monitor: The National Online Journal

Pakistan's Democratic Turmoil

Pakistanis have yet to witness the “transparency” of Musharraf's true futuristic intensions, writes NAHEED ALI


Pakistan has been in turmoil for a long time, and even after the recent elections the country's democratic path remains uncertain.

The events that preceded the elections were precarious. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s return to the country from her exile in Dubai ultimately proved unfortunate. The reaction from President Pervez Musharraf’s entourage itself was quite surprising. The clash between the two political entities impacted not only the western hemisphere, but nations bordering the violence-stricken Muslim nation. The country’s neighboring allies were already losing hope for a stable and peaceful Pakistan, while fighting and turmoil increased without any sign of peaceful negotiations between Bhutto’s supporters and Musharraf’s cabinet.

A long history of bloodshed, assassinations, and imprisonment scarred the Bhutto regime well before she herself had personally risen to power in the 1990s. Many of her kin had fallen victim to political violence within the last two decades, including her executed father and two younger brothers who died mysteriously. She faced a wide variety of accusations, ranging from smuggling precious gold to general corruption charges brought against her by the interior ministry. Her family was marred by corruption charges and violence. And she had a world-class educational background. Those facts, apparently, did not bother her that she would be a martyr for the country she once governed. Public fear of further bloodshed increased as Bhutto changed her original scheme of collaborating with Musharraf and possibly allying with Nawaz Sharif, to become the primary opponent of the former in the February 18 elections.

The former prime minister’s homecoming resulted in a state of emergency and ultimately in her assassination partially because opposition leaders may have regarded her as a challenge to Mussharaf’s authority. Surprisingly, it hindered the government’s actions against the growing number of Marxist rebels also. According to Stephen Cohen, the premiere US analyst on Southern Asia, Musharraf’s [relatively] recent coup against his own government was in good part a result of American pressure on him to hold free and fair elections as well as actions of the Supreme Court that suddenly began to challenge the military’s dominant position and a dramatic increase in terrorist violence against the Pakistani military itself. Political theorists could regard the move as a self-inflicted presidential strike that we have seen in the past in other nations such as Kazakhstan, Russia, Guatemala, Belarus and Peru. The reasoning is simple-- the state of emergency declared by the president would unite all political entities against the military (instead of in its favor.)

Pakistan has commissioned the military to control its citizens since the country’s independence in 1947. Therefore, the current political turmoil goes against the norms of liberal and maximalist political theory seen in the West and has conformed to the electoral and minimalist forms of democracy. Many world leaders in the 21st century have been uniting to try to provide a true version of a particular sovereignty that differs from the one mentioned in Treaty of Westphalia (1648) between Rome and France, and the UN Charter (1945). A peaceful state of independence in Pakistan can now only exist by securing the direct rights of citizens, in contrast to Stephen Cohen’s “moderate oligarchy” theory of selecting industrial, military and judiciary bureaucrats to lead the Pakistani people. Although it is true that in some nations a military prominence must be there in order to have a solid and stable government, the military’s adherence to national policy and self-unity at this time is in itself questionable.

President Musharraf’s former militaristic government has failed on many instances to provide for a real democracy by assuming leadership of one of the worst nuclear and warhead technology programs, and by unwillingly providing for extremists and terrorists whose sole intention is to destroy the West and Pakistan’s neighbors. The weakening democracy will eventually lead to the country’s domestic inclinations being shaped by Pakistan’s concern for international security and foreign affairs. Musharraf and his country still have the pathological fear of being attacked by a Hindu India and a modernized West. Also, experts believe Musharraf’s political tenacity accounts for his fear of being litigated for his illegal election as president.

However, the Pushtun group-- a majority that plays a huge role in Musharraf’s foreign delegations-- view any military exploitation against their group a direct American influence rather than an internal political necessity. They also happen to comprise at least eighteen percent of the total number of National Guard troops. In fact, certain Pushtun diplomats of the Pakistani Army may still hold ties with domestic and international militant groups to help exemplify the United States’ abandonment of Pakistan—abandonment that exists only in Pakistani theory. This explains why the Red Mosque incident occurred close to the national intelligence agency and in direct response to Musharraf’s sacking of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhury. The Red Mosque episode definitely shows that the Pakistani government will attempt to divert public attention from more pressing issues whenever possible. In addition, political and economic instability has unfortunately given way for Musharraf’s military-backed former regime to intervene in the country’s governance again and again.

The recent general election served its purpose despite the killing of the winning party’s former prize and symbol, the all-powerful Benazir Bhutto. Pakistanis were looking for transparency in the country’s governance amidst Musharraf’s long-standing promise of holding fair and impartial elections. But if the groundbreaking elections were to make this a reality in its entirety, why then, have the coalition talks in the past few days suggested a refusal by Pervez to leave power?

Indeed, we have yet to witness the “transparency” of his true futuristic intensions. By the looks of Pakistan’s current situation and the possibility of a bipartisan alliance, he can resign by two options: Either he can leave quietly in much the same way Bhutto did at the time of exile, or dodge the criticism to return and cause even more national upheaval. To put it more clearly, Musharraf needs to step down at the hands of the parliament trying to oust him for going against its constitution while gluing the ever-so controversial Seventeenth Amendment to it.

Optimistic critics can say what they choose, but a nation trying to conspire against unity will progress very little if tensions persist and infringements ensue within Parliament itself. The world nonetheless holds its breath in anticipation of what is to follow, whether this state lags further into turmoil, or goes through widespread redemption and closes the chapter on her past.

Cheers to a great country that overcame many obstacles—a culture of hope that ironically harbors masses of people acting not as future standouts, but unfortunately as political enzymes set to degrade the future prosperity of Pakistan.

Naheed Ali is a well-known political commentator. His works have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers worldwide. He makes his home in northern Georgia, USA.

Posted by Editor on February 23, 2008 11:07 AM