Good op-ed by friend Ali Dayan Hasan, formerly
asst editor of The Herald. beena
International Herald Tribune
Monday, November 1, 2004
Propping up Musharraf
Ali Dayan Hasan
LAHORE, Pakistan The word in Urdu is "be-sharmi."
Think of it as chutzpah, or shamelessness, and
you'll understand what President General Pervez
Musharraf of Pakistan did in October in violating
his pledges to step down as army chief on Dec.
In 1999, Musharraf took power in a coup. This
year, in order to push through controversial
constitutional reforms that increased his powers,
Musharraf acceded to widespread demands to step
down as army chief as part of the process of
returning the country to civilian rule. Last
month - the fifth anniversary of his coup - he
reneged by securing the passage of the "The
President to Hold Another Office Act." Pakistani
democracy activists are reeling.
Last year, President George W. Bush, in a widely
publicized speech, admitted that the United
States had turned a blind eye as dictators and
authoritarian rulers in the Muslim world trampled
on basic rights and ruled by fiat.
Bush spoke passionately about how democracy and
human rights in the Muslim world are critical to
combating terrorism. He vowed that future U.S.
policy would be different.
Yet when the new Bush doctrine met its first real
test, Pakistan, the United States remained
silent. Why? The general is a friend of the
United States. After Sept. 11, Musharraf
immediately announced his support for the United
States against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Musharraf has successfully convinced the United
States - and other countries - that he is
Pakistan's indispensable man. Claiming that only
he can save what he destroyed - Pakistan's
fragile democracy - Musharraf has essentially
been given a pass on Pakistan's nuclear
proliferation, the exile and jailing of
opposition political leaders and serious human
rights abuses by the Pakistani Army.
The Bush administration has uncritically accepted
Musharraf's premise that pressuring him too much
on human rights and democracy could push the
country into the hands of Islamists.
This is a profound misunderstanding of power and
political reality in Pakistan. With or without
Musharraf, the leadership of the Pakistani
military is dedicated to self-preservation and
power. It was the military that created the
Taliban and then, after Sept. 11, made a U-turn
at full speed.
If Musharraf leaves office, it will primarily be
because he is viewed as an ineffective CEO for
Pakistan Army Inc. His replacement, chosen from
within the ranks of the army command, will
continue to pursue a pro-U.S. policy with equal
zeal. Pakistani generals know that Islamic
fundamentalists are just as opposed to the
largely secular military establishment as they
are to the United States. For Pakistan Army Inc.,
the United States is the only game in town.
While the Bush administration sees stability, we
Pakistanis see a nonperforming state, structured
primarily around the preservation of the
institutional interests of its military.
The military prioritizes the acquisition of
nuclear weapons over accessible schooling, clean
drinking water, basic medical care or any
meaningful reduction in the poverty of its
citizens. It is a systematic human rights abuser.
Increasingly these abuses are conducted under the
umbrella of the U.S.-led "war on terror."
The Pakistani Army's traditional policy of
denying fundamental rights to the tribal belt,
encompassing Waziristan along the Afghan border,
and its brutality in conducting recent
antiterrorist operations there, has created a
rebellion that shows every sign of outliving
Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, the southwestern
province of Balochistan, sullenly peaceful until
recently, is rapidly moving toward an insurgency
as decades of resentment against the Pakistani
military come to a head.
Pakistan continues to preside over a host of
discriminatory and dangerous laws and practices
for women. And while waxing eloquent about "real
democracy," it was Musharraf who eviscerated the
judiciary by sacking Supreme Court judges who
opposed martial law.
Indeed, Pakistan continues to run a
pseudodemocracy put in place through elections
described as deeply flawed by independent
international observers. Musharraf ratified his
own position as president through a referendum in
which he was the only candidate.
Javed Hashmi, president of the opposition
Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, has
been sentenced to 23 years in prison. His crime?
He read a letter critical of Musharraf to
The desire of the Bush administration for
political stability in Pakistan is no excuse for
failing to pursue a proactive human rights agenda
with Pakistan. The United States has the
leverage, and Pakistan has the experience with
democracy, to make it happen. No Muslim country
is more able to prove President Bush right, if
only he means what he said.
(Ali Dayan Hasan is the Pakistan researcher for
Human Rights Watch.)
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