Pervez Musharraf: What the West Doesn't Know--or Doesn't Want to Know
Musharraf was playing Muslim radicalism's card well before September 11. However, he hit the political jackpot after the kamikaze event of September 11, when the international community saw in him a ray of hope as an anti-terrorist warrior who could help the world to get rid of the menace of Muslim radicalism.
Fatefully, what the international community forgot by the time they made up their minds to go along with him, is the fact that Musharraf remains among those who once nurtured Muslim radicalism as an extension of Pakistan's military strategy to gain strategic advantage against neighboring foe India. Muslim insurgency is entering in its twelfth year in Indian Kashmir, and is useful in order to keep a check upon local democratic and liberal forces who oppose the military's involvement in civilian affairs and want power to be transferred from military garrisons to Parliamentary forums.
The General is known to be an astute tactician. What the outside world doesn't know--or doesn't want to seeis that Musharraf actively participated in building the Jihadi regime that he now promises to help the free world to dismantle, in return for their support of his military regime.
In the aftermath of September 11, he has been skillfully projecting himself as a moderate Muslim ruler who is opposed to Muslim radicalism. By choosing this stance, he has invited the wrath of Muslim fanatics, who want to get rid of him by one way or other. Last month his government announced that it has cracked a ring of terrorists who wanted to kill him by detonating a roadside car bomb.
His propagandists have manufactured a doomsday-like scenario as an alternate to his rule: Without Musharraf in power, they would have us believe, the terrorists would take command of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and fire nuclear-capable missiles upon such "infidel" states as India and Israel. Simply put, the message is: If I am dethroned, there will be an extremist deluge in Pakistan.
His strategy thus offers little room in which the international community can bargain in dealing with Pakistan: Either there will be a continuation of his military rule, or Muslim radicals will take over the country. Certainly the international community would have to choose the former; in any event, the outside world cannot see (or does not want to see?) the reality that both alternatives are merely two sides of the same coin. An independent inquiry into the general's career as a military officer and his relations with radical groups would reveal this fact without much effort.
However, there is a better choice that the International community can make: Just ask Musharraf to step down, and hold free and fair elections. Musharraf himself has promised these elections half-heartedly--but only after introducing constitutional amendments that would render a future parliament to be at his mercy.
He won't do this on his own. He knows that the people of Pakistan are wise enough to discard religious parties and throw their weight behind secular and moderate political forces. In the past, we had a few free elections--and amazingly, in all the elections, no religious party could win more than five percent of the total vote.
If there were any illusions about Pakistan returning to democracy after the October elections, they vanished last month when President Musharraf unveiled his plan to redraft the constitution and acquire sweeping powers. It is quite apparent that he has no intention of transferring power to an elected parliament. He simply plans to establish a shadow military state in the garb of democracy.
To give the military a constitutional role in governing, he has put on the table the idea of having a National Security Council. Members of this forum, however, would be serving generals and other military services chiefs in addition to a puppet Prime Minister. It is this Council, Musharraf tells us, that would guide the Pakistan in all important matters. Such an arrangement would be a mockery of a civil democracy.
Sadly, Western democracies have shut their eyes, ears and tongues to this development.
Political observers here agree that Pakistan's political forces' efforts to restore true democracy in Pakistan have been weakened by the silence of the US and other Western powers. These powers continue to feel that there is no alternative to Musharraf if terrorism based in Pakistan is to be weeded out, and if Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is to be prevented from falling into the hands of the terrorists.
As one political leader has remarked, no Bush, Blair or Schroeder is asking Musharraf to let democracy return to Islamabad. Contrast this to how Arafat of Palestine and Mugabe of Zimbabwe are being told to let democracy prevail in their constituencies.
"They do not seem to realize that Pakistan-spawned terrorism was a by-product of the previous military rule under Zia, and that, instead of being eliminated, it would only gather strength if the present military rule under Musharraf continues under the facade of democracy," says this commentator.
Certainly, the international community must not forget that if democratic forces were to replace Musharraf, they would be a reliable partner of the international community in the so-called war on terrorism. No war is won by relying on a dubious partner whose very existence is based upon the continuance of a foe. If there were no Jihadi, the world would not have thrown its weight behind Musharraf. In order to continue in office on the international community's shoulders, he needs radicals to stay around one way or other.
In the past, the free world has gotten itself involved in somewhat the same hypocritical practice elsewhere, yielding dangerous results for the subject people of third world countries.
At the height of the cold war, when the free world was addicted to choosing between lesser evils--dictatorships or communism--many ruthless dictators played the communist threat card craftily to win the support of western countries. In all cases, the human rights, the democracy, the universal values of the right to choose and to live at one's own will, were the martyrs of this grand "democratic" scheme that the western democracies kept going for half a century in this part of world.
To name a few cases, one can recall the names of Marcos of the Philippines, Suharto of Indonesia, Pinochet of Chile, Zia of Pakistan, and the Shah of Iran. All were ruthless dictators who ruled their respective constituencies with active US support. Fearing a communist takeover if the "darling dictators" were to be discarded, the US and other western democracies have blindly supported the massacre of democracy in the name of saving the free world from the communist threat.
The international community must now ponder the question that everyone in Pakistan wants answered: Will we be expected to endure the usurpation of our human and constitutional rights at the hands of coterie of generals in order to "win" the war this time?
The world must come up with a balanced answer for the sake of correcting the record of history, if they care at all for us, the people of Pakistan.
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This story was published on August 7, 2002.