Pakistan's military dictator, General Musharraf in an injudicious and politically unwise move last week, eased out the Chief Justice of Pakistan on flimsy grounds as was reflected in my last column. The ensuing political furor has for the first time brought Pakistan's civil society on the streets in strong and widespread protests all over Pakistan. These protests were handled by the military government with the use of brutal force which was unwarranted as the protests and demonstrations were peaceful. But as is the wont of military regimes, they are intolerant of any opposition. Details and visuals of the attempts to brutalize the demonstrations have been carried across the world and therefore one can skip the details here and dwell on the bigger picture that is emerging.
Pakistan has been simmering with political discontent in the preceding couple of years of the military regime of General Musharraf and more so now as Pakistan enters the final lap towards General Elections at the end of 2007. Pakistan's simmering political discontent stands focused on General Musharraf's blatant attempts to perpetuate his power by manipulating the Constitution in a manner which would preclude any effective political challenge emerging against him besides the massive rigging for which he became notorious in 2002.
General Musharraf's ouster of the Chief Justice was a pre-emptive strike to ensure that a Chief Justice noted for his judicial activism would not sit on judgment on his future as in this election year , the General's declared plans to get re-elected by the present Assemblies and also to retain his uniform as Pakistan Army Chief would be challenged legally by the political parties.
All this should not have come as a surprise knowing fully well from Pakistan's history of military regimes that the Pakistani military dictators never leave their thrones gracefully. They are either forced ignominiously into oblivion or killed in mysterious circumstances.
In this last week when Pakistan has been in turmoil and which could pick up political impetus, the United States has not distinguished itself in the way it has handled or managed the ongoing political crisis in Pakistan. The political signals emanating from Washington on Pakistan have been contradictory in nature and content. They surely could not have been received well by the Pakistani public and its newly vocal civil society. Going by these contradictory statements of US Administration officials it seems that the United States has still not grasped the reality that Pakistan today is the most anti-US state especially after 9/11 and all that happened thereafter. Therefore, it is all the more important for the United States to calibrate and nuance its utterances and approaches to Pakistan so that they are as close to the aspirations of the Pakistani people and not be seen as the perpetuation of the military dictator in power.
The people of Pakistan today strongly desire that democracy is restored in Pakistan, the military regime ends and that the Pakistan Army returns to the barracks. They view that the coming General Elections would offer them this opportunity, if the elections are fair and freely held and that the United States as the main benefactor of General Musharraf, prevails upon him to do so. The people of Pakistan surely would also be expecting that in the pursuance of the above the United States would discard its Musharraf 'centric policy approaches towards Pakistan and is pro-active in attempts to restore democracy in Pakistan.
In the last two days, the statements emanating from Washington were conflicting. After a long time a welcome statement emerged from USA that it expects Musharraf to live up to his pledges to discard his uniform and position as Pakistan Army Chief by the year end. This certainly was a welcome shift and signaled to the Pakistani public that USA would bind General Musharraf to his pledges made in earlier years. While the magic of this was being absorbed in Pakistan other officials embarked on extolling the Pakistani military dictator and thereby neutralizing the effect of the first. Yet another US official went on record to state that the US Administration does not view that the current crisis would or does signal the end of Musharraf regime. In other words, that the United States expects and hopes that the military regime in Pakistan continues.
Surely at this stage this is the last thing that a man on Pakistan's streets wants to listen. Moreso, when for the first time in Pakistan's history, a gradually enlarging civil society in Pakistan has taken the lead in attempting to ignite the tinderbox of political discontent simmering in Pakistan against Pakistan Army rule.
This crisis was an opportune moment for the United States to make its political preferences clear in Pakistan in favor of democracy, return of civilian rule, free and fair elections and return of Pakistan's two leading political figure, former Premiers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to contest the elections.
Regrettably, no such statements have emanated from Washington leaving the Pakistani polity exasperated.
No wonder, that on March 21st in a joint meeting in London to review the political scene in Pakistan, the two former Premiers were constrained to painfully assert that it was strange that while in Afghanistan, US and UK soldiers were laying down their lives to defend the fledgling democracy there, the United States and the United Kingdom 'winked' at Musharraf's continued attacks on what was left of Pakistan's democratic institutions and were glaringly oblivious to restoring democracy in Pakistan.
Further, the two former Premiers added that they felt let down by Western leader's attitudes who now say that the question of return of the two former Premiers was an internal matter of Pakistan to decide. In other words it is left to Musharraf to decide.
As I have written elsewhere, the United States massive strategic investments in the Pakistan Army and the heavy political investment in its Musharraf-centric policies are reminiscent of America's Shah of Iran-centric policies of the 1960s and the 1970s. The lessons and the end of that game must be remembered.