has the bomb. It also has an antagonizing enemy, which also has the bomb. It has
a passionately disputed territory which it dearly wants to see liberated from
its enemy. Now, Pakistan has a new military leader who has proven his
willingness to actively engage the enemy for the sake of that disputed
territory, in defiance of world opinion. Seems volatile, doesn’t it?
Yet, one hears no
stammer in the voices from Washington; no tense and indignant outbursts or
warnings about illegal, despotic rebellion, or terrorist political solutions. At
worst, the coup has been referred to as "extra-constitutional." Hardly a
word dramatic enough to describe the rather awesome efficiency of the Pakistani
army taking control of the airport, television and radio stations, and scaling
the walls of the prime minister’s home and arresting him, while sending troops
out across the country to detain most government officials; all in less than
The Pentagon was
quick to declare that the Pakistani nuclear capability was under stable control.
CNN reported that Pakistanis were "dancing in the streets" to celebrate the
removal of Nawaz Sharif whose corruption, increasingly dictatorial style, and
acquiescence to U.S. demands for a military pullout from Kashmir, have all
contributed to widespread public hostility. But the reticence of American
reaction indicates that Pakistanis might do well to postpone their celebrations.
Pakistan is a
country buckling under the weight of enormous debt, owing international
creditors approximately $32 billion. It is reliant on loans from the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, although the IMF has only
promised a total loan of $3.3 billion (the terms of which had not been
negotiated before the coup), which still leaves Pakistan with an unmanageable
debt of almost $30 billion.
The fact that the
terms of this loan are pending cannot be ignored in light of the coup. The IMF
program, more often than not, requires recipient countries to impose so-called
"austerity measures" on their populations, which, basically, re-channel
public spending (education, health, and welfare) to service debt repayment. The
corruption of Sharif’s unpopular government, which many Pakistanis already
felt denied services to the poor, would have made it impossible for Nawaz Sharif
to successfully impose the IMF austerity measures.
The coup has
changed the situation considerably. General Pervez Musharraf is in a position to
impose any measures on the people that he can justify as necessary for
stability. Even a new constitutional government will be subordinate to that of
the military—the coup has established that fact. Ultimately, all authority
over Pakistan, including that over the military, unfortunately, rests in the
hands of transnational financial institutions such as the IMF.
A coup can never
overthrow a country’s debt. This is the explanation for U.S. calm. The
military has, from the beginning, controlled Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, the
coup has not changed this fact. The immediate imposition of sanctions, the
suspension of IMF funding, the condemnation by the European Union, all are
intended, not to punish Pakistan, but to take advantage of the state of
emergency, requiring Pakistan’s new leadership to prove its compliance, and,
above all, to reassert that the coup has not changed Pakistans dependence on
There is little
question that the United States was aware that a coup was pending; several weeks
ago, in fact, President Clinton actually commented on it. There is little
question that, despite rhetorical disapproval, the U.S. is not chagrined by the
overthrow. It is worth noticing that, unlike the 1991 overthrow of Haitian
president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the United States is not calling for the
return of the elected president. According to an October 16 Reuters article, a
Washington official was quoted as saying that the reinstatement of Nawaz Sharif
"was not a practical solution to the current political crisis." President
Clinton said, "as a matter of principle, the United States, any country, never
attempts to select the leaders for any other country …the people are supposed
to do that, not us." Clinton apparently forgot that Sharif was selected by the
people in a much heralded democratic election.
seeking the return of Sharif, calls were made for a return to "constitutional
government." This sufficiently demonstrates tacit American approval of
Sharif’s overthrow. A military invitation for General Musharraf to visit
Centcom headquarters in Florida, informatively, still stands.
The most support
Nawaz Sharif is able to elicit from his former sponsors is a polite nod from
President Clinton in recognition of his acquiescent removal of Pakistani troops
from the Line of Control in Kashmir.
The U.S. does not
mind supporting unpopular governments, until their unpopularity rises to such a
level as to make them incompetent to fulfill their obligations as a client
dictatorship, even under the guise of a technocratic government, is far more
reliable in imposing "macro-economic" reforms such as those required by the
IMF, and in states of emergency, nearly any measures are accepted without
In the end, the
change of governments in Pakistan does not raise much alarm in the West because
economic "globalization" has left most Third World governments with little
more to do than carry out the edicts of Western powers.
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto criticized Nawaz Sharif for running the government
like his own private corporation, but with overwhelming debt and minimal
national product, General Musharraf may find that the CEO of that corporation is
not the head of Pakistan, but the heads of the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund. Z
Shahid Bolsen is a free-lance writer based in Denver.