Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf has been under sustained pressure in the last few weeks from the US Administration to rein in the Taliban operating against US and NATO Forces in Afghanistan from safe havens and sanctuaries in Pakistan. This US pressure was applied at various levels culminating in Vice President Cheney's visit which was read as a final ultimatum to General Musharraf to deliver on his pledges to USA on the global war on terror or else?
Of course, this behind the scenes ultimatum to the Pakistani military dictator was balanced by extolling Pakistan and the General for his strong role in the war on terror through public statements by official US spokespersons. This seems to have been done as recompense to those in the US policy establishment who maintain that General Musharraf should not be pushed into a corner until the United States has developed alternatives to replace him in power and who are pro-US and would continue to serve US interests especially in Afghanistan.
However time and tides do not wait for anyone and as has been the focus in this Column for some time, things were heading for a crisis in Pakistan. For far too long General Musharraf had been successful in selling his indispensability to the US Administration and the USA had been buying it. In the process, the US Administration was giving short shrift to the imperatives of democracy in Pakistan, and opening it to charges of double standards. That Rubicon seems to have been crossed now.
In a move which would be welcomed by all those in Pakistan and elsewhere who have been strongly espousing the cause of restoration of democracy in Pakistan, the United States Senate has taken the first American step in this direction.
The Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph R Bidden and three senior members of this Committee, Senators John F Kerry, Patrick J Leahy and Blanch L Lincoln have jointly signed and sent a missive to General Musharraf.
In their missive to the Pakistani military dictator, the Senator's main thrust seems to have been aimed at demanding the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. The preamble to this thrust was worded to indicate that they were strong believers in good US-Pak relations into the future but given the 'enormous stakes' that the United States has in the future of Pakistan, they feel constrained to raise critical issues with him.
The critical issues raised by them were:
- Free, fair and open elections in Pakistan should take place in 2007.
- Pakistani people should be permitted to run an unhindered robust election campaign without any interference by the Government, its organs or agencies.
- The people of Pakistan have the right to discuss the political future of Pakistan through a 'vigorous' electoral debate.
- All legitimate political parties of Pakistan must be permitted to participate in the elections.
- Pakistan's two exiled former Prime Ministers who head the country's largest political parties, namely Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto should be permitted to return and allowed to contest the elections.
The US Senators seemed to have left the Pakistani General in no doubt as to what they expected of him in the run-up to Pakistan's General Elections in 2007 which they described as a crucial year for Pakistan. Additionally, this letter also cautioned Pakistan's present regime against persecution of the media, harassment of its critics, and restraining the Taliban and terrorism against India.
This letter from the US Senators can be hoped to put some restraint on General Musharraf from the wayward path on which he had embarked by planning to get himself re-elected as President by the current Assemblies before the General Elections and retaining his uniform as President. It would also act as a restraint on the postponing or canceling the elections by the Pakistan Army.
More importantly, it would greatly inspire the civil society in Pakistan in their struggle for restoration of democracy in their democracy-deficit nation, a curse inflicted on them by the self-vaunted saviors of Pakistan, the Pakistan Army.
The US Senators deserve much credit for firmly stating what the United States expects from the Pakistani military regime in the election year of 2007. It is now genuinely hoped that the US Senators would keep up their commitment by ensuring that the Pakistan Army regime does not give them a slip on their call for free and fair elections in 2007 by any subterfuge whatsoever.