With news of the abrupt resignation of Pakistani general-cum-president, Pervez Musharraf, comes the stark realization that, in Islamabad, democracy means the power of the people over that of a dictator.
It also means that Pakistanis so believe in their Constitution that they were willing to confront a military dictator who violated it.
Musharraf, buffeted by the bellows of opposition, chose to switch, rather than fight. He knew that parliamentary opposition parties were intent on impeaching him for violation of the national constitution.
They protested in the streets from the elites to the poor, and Musharraf threw them into jails. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated under suspicious circumstances.
Some 7,000 miles away, another president violates the constitution at will, and breaks both statutory and international laws on torture, secret prisons, renditions, illegal detentions, wiretaps — and on and on. But,of course, in this other democracy, the constitution is an historical artifact, held under special glass in a vacuum of a special gas, something to be worshipped from a distance, while violated daily.
And the national legislature? They favor false stability over all things — and when the party in opposition recently gained the majority, they immediately announced impeachment was "off the table."
In a nation based on precedent, this means every president — from now on- can feel free to violate the constitution at will. He – or she – can go to war on a whim – or lies. She may order her subordinates to torture, to kidnap, to break any law with impunity, and be sure that she is protected by precedent.
The political classes have decided that the only avenue left for the people is every four years or so, during an election where millionaires are the candidates. In the meantime, anything goes.
In the US, democracy is a word that we throw out to justify armed invasions and illegal violations of international law — it has no intrinsic meaning.
In Pakistan, democracy is thriving and alive. It marched in the streets, it spoke in the courts, and it ran in the actions of Parliament, demanding impeachment.
In democracy, it seems, Americans have a great deal to learn.