Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tyrant Musharraf, revisited

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The brutal crackdown continues -- in Karachi, Lahore, and elsewhere -- but it seems now that Pakistani military strongman Pervez Musharraf has backed down somewhat in his tyrannical quest. From Reuters, the latest:

Pakistan said it would hold a national election by mid-January and President Pervez Musharraf pledged to quit the military after criticism from the United States for imposing emergency rule.

Gen. Musharraf has detained hundreds of lawyers and opposition politicians since taking emergency powers on Saturday, a move seen as designed to pre-empt a Supreme Court ruling on his re-election as president last month.

U.S. President George W. Bush, who values Gen. Musharraf as an ally in his battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban, urged Pakistan's President to lift the state of emergency, hold elections and quit his military post.

*****

The United States has put future aid to Pakistan under review, having provided $10-billion in the past five years, and postponed defence talks with Pakistan due this week.

"We expect there to be elections as soon as possible and that the president should remove his military uniform," Mr. Bush said in Washington.

Yes, Musharraf is a U.S. ally and a Bush friend, but Bush is admirably saying and doing the right things in response to Musharraf's anti-democratic moves. (But you know there's a but...) But:

There was no indication of when Gen. Musharraf would lift emergency rule, which he justified by citing a hostile judiciary and rising militancy. However he said on Monday he planned to give up his military role in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

*****

But softening his remarks, Mr. Bush said Gen. Musharraf "has been a strong fighter against extremists and radicals... After all they tried to kill him three or four times."

Which is to say, Musharraf continues to rule in a state of emergency, a self-imposed state of emergency, and it is precisely that self-imposed state of emergency that is allowing him to crack down on his opponents and otherwise to rule autocratically. That state of emergency may end, and Musharraf may as indicated give up his military position, but one can be a tyrant with or without a formal state of emergency and with or without a military position. He is who he is regardless of what uniform he happens to be wearing.

Furthermore, there may be elections in January, but they may not be free and fair. Elections that are rigged or somehow corrupt are hardly democratic. As well, elections mean very little, free and fair otherwise, without robust democratic institutions to lend them, and the political process generally, legitimacy. Will Musharraf allow for the holding of free and fair elections, and for the granting of genuine political power to Pakistan's existing democratic institutions? Or will he somehow ensure that he emerges victorious from the process, the appearance of democracy masking the farce within, the mirage of electoral legitimacy granting him protection from his critics and the authority to impose his tyrannical will on his country?

And what of Bush? Does he want genuine democracy in Pakistan -- that is, free and fair elections along with robust democratic institutions -- or is it only the appearance of democracy -- that is, a process to ensure Musharraf's ongoing rule -- that interests him? Musharraf is still his friend, after all, and Pakistan, rightly or wrongly, remains a close U.S. ally. It may simply be that Bush could no longer allow Musharraf to continue on his tyrannical path without intervening, without saying something. Musharraf went too far, his actions no longer defensible, the friendly alliance strained, hence Bush's pro-democracy rhetoric, hence issues of threats: Pull back, Pervez, take off your uniform, and hold an election. And make sure you win. In the meantime, I'll be sure to say the right things and threaten you, but that's just for show. Just like the election in January. Just behave yourself, my friend, and stop being so nakedly tyrannical. It's making us all look bad, and we can't have that.

Time will tell, I suppose, but there is justifiable cause for concern -- and cynicism. Bush and Musharraf still need each other, or still seem to think they need each other, or still seem to want to use each other. They are not about to undermine their close, personal friendship with a nuisance like democracy.

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