WASHINGTON DC, Aug 8, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Signs That Washington is Ready to Stop Backing Musharraf

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

LONDON, August 8: In my last article: "Pakistan getting too hot for the Generals to handle" (SAT, August 2), I had underscored that the "justification of evil on the ground of expediency" by top world leaders, "has converted God's little earth into a cesspool of intrigue, machinations and chicanery now even beyond their own control."

It was pleaded that if the deepening world disorder has to be arrested, preference to double standards and selective justice will have to be given up. Most of the article was concerned about the situation in Pakistan following the London bombings of the last month that had once again catapulted Pakistan as the epicenter of global terrorism. It was emphasis ed that only a total national effort, mobilization of the masses and the best political brains can steer Pakistan out of the stormy oceans.

While I would be the last person to subscribe to the view that democracy can only come to Pakistan via Washington, a large number of our intellectuals/academics and opinion makers believe that it is the United States that calls the shots in Pakistan and holds the whip that makes our military establishment wag its tail. Since it has been the main provider of the shield of legitimacy to military rulers from the day we had the first martial law in October 1958, we have seen American preference to generals rather than democratically elected politicians. Even when it comes to American aid, the ratio of assistance to the dictators is four times more than the civilian governments. That, perhaps, has been one of the key reasons that genuine restoration of democracy in which "we the people" are the sole arbiters of power remains an elusive dream.

Pakistan had the first taste of some democracy at the end of Cold War. Decline and subsequent demise of the Soviet Union had opened floodgates of change worldwide in favor of democratic movements. It was not love for democracy among the generals that had seen the restoration of some semblance of democracy in Pakistan following General Zia's fatal fall from the sky. They could not impose another martial law in August 1988 when the entire world had been romancing with the democratic dream. It would not have fitted in the American agenda for a democratic Eastern Europe and Central Asian Republics. They made a tactical retreat, allowed elections, manipulated them to deny PPP leader Benazir Bhutto an otherwise assured landslide.

An assertive democratic Benazir Bhutto, much like her father, was not their ball game. They had her removed to switch on yet another round of musical chairs that ended in two terms, actually two half terms, both to her and Mian Nawaz Sharif as prime ministers. Throughout these half terms the Praetorian power wielders orchestrated unproven corruption charges and instability from behind the curtain. When they saw that time was ripe to strike, they struck and now in coming October General Pervez Musharraf would be completing his sixth year as absolute ruler of Pakistan, much more than the two terms of each elected prime ministers.

Like Zia General Musharraf also used Afghanistan to further implement the Praetorian dream of converting Pakistan into a garrison state, a country for the military, of the military and run by the military. Its intelligence apparatus, ISI-employed Taliban, foreign and local Jihadis trained and armed by it from the stacked up funds received in tonnes from the United States during the 80s, created a situation when Washington would forget all about its commitment to democracy as a global phenomenon and support to the hilt yet another military dictator.

After the invasion of Baghdad to restore democratic rights of the Iraqi people by toppling Saddam Hussain (the only defence for the Anglo-American invasion in the absence of the weapons of mass destruction), further democratization of the Palestinian State Authority and President Bush's Scheme for the democratization of Middle East, Washington's continued support to a military dictator in Pakistan, whom it had earlier declared a pariah, has been a constant source of embarrassment and a big spanner in its move to garner wider acceptability to democracy as a universal movement.

To correct this colossal biased selectivity in its foreign policy, it was urged in my last article that, "Both Washington and London must get down to tell Musharraf point blank that he cannot combat terrorism by isolating the great majority of the people in his country by denying it its democratic right to vote in a government of its choice. The enormous magnitude of the terrorism requires a national effort to combat it. By keeping former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif out of the mainstream politics, he has given an open field to the religious parties and extremists to call the shots. The recently passed Hasba Bill by the North Western Frontier Provincial Assembly and the evils it will unleash in the country should be nipped in the bud before it acquires the magnitude of a death-knell for the liberal and democratic forces in Pakistan. Hasba is yet another step towards Talibanisation of Pakistan and a powerful manifestation of Mulla-Military alliance."

It was also urged that Washington would do well to listen to American experts like Stephen P. Cohen who can see and measure Pakistani population's "growing alienation" from the United States that feeds into support for extremism. And this growing anti-Americanism obviously is due to absence of democracy and a level playing field for popular leaders like Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif who continue to command the support of the majority in the masses.

It is encouraging to note that after all observations such as Stephen Cohen's are not falling like seeds on the stony ground in Washington. It seems they are being heeded to. The recent statement of the American Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca in Islamabad amounts to singing the lion's beard in his den. Ms Rocca's declaration that it was the 'US policy that free and fair elections, a level-playing field and return to full democracy was the key to long-term prosperity and stability in Pakistan' shows that all is not all that bad in Washington and that there is a growing realization where things have gone wrong.

Besides, in her Washington-Islamabad video conference with senior journalists, Ms Rocca also brought on record that the US administration did not believe that the President's uniform guaranteed success of war against international terrorism and that it ensured that Pakistan's nuclear assets would not fall into the hands of fundamentalists. "It is a policy we continue to pursue," she said.

It is better late than never. It is heartening to see that Washington has at last started seeing through General Musharraf's game of misleading the international opinion in insisting that his uniform was essential for stability and fight against terror. The earlier the Bush administration realizes the better it would be for Pakistan and its war on terrorism that political stability comes only with legitimacy and the writ of the state gets acceptability when it is backed by general will and not by tin pot generals who confess to be anorchous without their uniforms.

Moreover, winning war against terrorists and extremists requires national consensus that comes with democracy alone.

Musharraf occupies Presidency through Saddam-like referendum and he wields power on the basis of a contrived, distorted, fractured constitution that has no legitimacy left. Besides, he is also at war with the entire civil society as a result of which there is no consensus behind him. Pakistan and its people can regain their respectability and honor in the comity of nations when they have a freely and fairly elected government.

Notwithstanding the view spinned by Musharraf's media mongers that Ms Rocca's pronouncements should be dismissed lightly since she does not occupy a very high position in the American power hierarchy, her assertions definitely carry a new message that could not have been made without higher approval especially when it is much in line with the earlier statement of the world's most powerful woman, US Secretary of State Condi Rice, who had underscored the importance of free and fair elections and genuinely representative government when she visited Islamabad last.

Ms Rocca's statement definitely assumes special significance due to the timing and the venue of the video-conference held amidst wide scale reports of most blatant pre-poll rigging in the local bodies elections. Ms Rocca's remarks for the need for a level playing field essential not only for the local bodies elections, but also for the 2007 general elections, require no interpretation. Washington was "very clear about it publicly and privately," indicating that this concern had been conveyed to the government also through proper channels. She reassured her commitment when she said the US was providing technical assistance with observers along with the rest of the international community. No wonder many in Islamabad are having sleepless nights.

This wind of change has been widely welcomed in Pakistan. People would acknowledge generously the return of democracy no matter how it comes. However, our military establishment, to save the people of embarrassment of receiving democracy delivered in an American gift wrap, should rise to the occasion and come to terms with the genuine political leadership that lives in exile per force, hold earliest free and fair elections and go back to the barracks where they belong, with some respect and dignity intact rather than go with mud on its face.

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