Last month General Musharaf travelled to Washington to bask in the limelight given the leader of a key Nation in the global war against terrorism. This month he travelled to Tokyo to receive accolades for the role Islamabad played in the fallout to the events of September 11.
There were dinners and toasts and warm words. Yet the flower bouquet the General most yearned for remained outside his reach. He failed in his bid to derail Pakistani democracy.
The General hoped that by joining the war against terror, he could keep himself in power and deny the will of the people. The General has said he is interested in democracy “as a label”.
In Washington he surprised audiences by declaring, “you want the label of democracy. Okay. I will put a label” making it clear that dictatorship would continue under re-labelling. His Foreign Secretary advised discretion. But the General, being “forthright” when needed, made the same statement at his next meeting.
“My Foreign Secretary”, he said, “doesn’t like me saying this but you want me to put the label of democracy. Okay, I will put it”.
Since then, he repeatedly labels dictatorship as “democracy”. In the new language, engineered elections are labelled “fair elections” and “military will” is labelled as the “peoples will”.
Musharaf was met with much fanfare in Tokyo as befits the leader of a key country in the international alliance. His own role in guiding Islamabad to join the international alliance was appreciated and acknowledged. However, Japan, committed to democratic values as a global foreign policy made it clear that it supported the restoration of Pakistani democracy through the holding of fair and free elections.
The insistence on the restoration of Pakistani democracy is critical to the global democratisation structure put in place after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are many other countries out there, and many other ambitious Generals and Politicians watching Pakistan to see if they too can come out of the wings and impose tyranny. The world can ill afford a community where the choice is between the military dictator and the taliban dictator.
This places General Musharaf in a quandary. Fair elections, according to political indicators, mean the return of the popular Pakistan Peoples Party and its leadership. This the General has, rather unwisely, sworn to oppose– and boxed himself into a corner.
He has threatened to lock up the key Opposition. He showed how when arresting over one thousand peaceful activists agitating a water issue on March 15. However, locking up the Opposition is one thing. Stopping them from contesting from behind prison bars is another. And the more the General fights the Opposition, especially the ladies, the less heroic he looks to his own men. Muslim culture venerates women as Mothers and Sisters. Men who lock them up lose respect.
Caught in the bind between culture and politics, the military regime considers passing a law preventing a political leader from contesting for chief executive thrice. The problem is that any law the regime passes needs parliamentary ratification. And the laws that Parliament ratifies depends on the whether the elections are engineered or fair.
The military regime did hold several rounds of talks with political leaders of all shades and hues initially. But negotiation between the main Opposition and the Generals, they are log jammed on three issues.
The first issue pertains to the release of political prisoners, the return of the exiles and the withdrawal of politically motivated cases that ran their course and remain unproven in their sixth year. The second logjam is on the proposed law banning a person from election as a chief executive for the third time. The third logjam is on the Opposition insistence that certain election modalities be adopted to ensure fair elections in name rather than in labelling.
The third logjam causes the most apprehension amongst the military regime. It apprehends that if there are fair elections, a popular party leader can influence the Assembly from Dubai, London or Washington. The case study of the previous Opposition Azad Jammu and Kashmir Government is cited. This would make the General dependent on the good will of the Party leader rather than the Parliament dependent on the good will of the General. Thus it appears that the military regime is on a double collision course: both with the democratic Opposition candidate for Prime Minister as well as with the concept of fair elections.
The absence of fair elections condemns Islamabad to continuing instability. The new Premier can blackmail the President by threatening to join up with the democratic Opposition. This is what Premier Junejo did in the eighties taking Generals from their plush Mercedes Benz limousines and putting them in small Suzuki cars. He defied them on other issues too, such as the Geneva Process relating to Afghanistan. Such defiance strained his relations with the military President. He was dismissed, of course ostensibly for corruption and incompetence. Islamabad plunged into further turmoil.
Extra constitutional measures lead to extra constitutional reaction. It is expected that rigged elections can allow extremist elements to hijack domestic opposition. Thus a fair election is important to Pakistan’s national interest although a few persons may see it as damaging to their personal interest.
Before Islamabad joined the international intervention in Afghanistan, it was regarded in a hostile light. Islamabad was then considered the patron saint of the Taliban as well as a sympathiser of Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden who had taken refuge the Taliban.
The military nature of the regime made it an outcast. When American President Clinton visited South Asia in 2000, he went to India for five days. He visited Islamabad for five hours.
History can change in a minute. And it did on September 11. The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon made Islamabad a key country. In breaking ties with the Taliban and the Bin Laden group, even if under pressure and threat, Musharaf made the war against terror easier to organise. As such, he is now recognised and welcomed in capitals and by leaders who previously had little to do with him.
Emergency economic aid has flowed in generous amounts from Japan, Pakistan’s largest aid donor as well as other countries. Tokyo promised $300 million over two years to the country. For a country with a debt in tens of billions of dollars, that is a generous help. But it is not a long-term solution.
Pakistanis decry Musharaf’s inability to get Islamabad’s debt written off. They cite his poor negotiating skills. After all, Egypt, Jordan and other countries managed to get their debts written off in incidents of international crisis. Musharaf, unaware of economic intricacies, got Pakistan’s debt “restructured”. Restructuring is a euphemism for adding on debt. Now Islamabad has double the debt that it had earlier. The difference is that payment starts post Musharaf. His regime gets the benefit and the unborn children get the punishment.
Prime Minister Koizumi, as leader of a country that knows the devastation caused by nuclear attack, would also have spoken to General Musharaf about nuclear affairs. Tokyo has urged Pakistan to continue its moratorium on nuclear testing. It has urged the country to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. And the leaders must have discussed these issues too.
But the issue that would have troubled the military leader most was the issue of democracy and the holding of fair elections. It is a tune that is sung everywhere he goes.
Last month he was in Washington. This month in Tokyo. The continents, culture and cuisines change. But one item on the menu remains constant, an item the General could digest: continued economic support to Pakistan is contingent on the restoration of the democratic process through the holding of fair, free and impartial elections.
And the disempowered people of Pakistan appreciate that message.