In October 2005, upon learning of the devastation that had been caused in Northern Pakistan by a massive earthquake, many of my British friends promptly emailed me with offers of help, ranging from money to filling in my duties at Cambridge while I visited the earthquake stricken region. At the time, I suggested to them that what countries like Pakistan need, even in the face of such calamities, is not charity but scrutiny. Pakistan is a rich country, with abundant natural as well as human resources. What keeps Pakistan from developing is not a lack of resources but the presence of an illegitimate, highly corrupt government, which is sustained not by the people of Pakistan but by powerful developed countries in the vanguard of movements for ‘good governance’, democracy and transparency. 160 million Pakistanis do not need charity from the British public. They need their scrutiny. They need them to deny oppressive governments legitimacy. And they need them to expose the double standards of their own government.
And they need it more than ever today. On October 6, the day of the Presidential election, General Musharraf, the Army Chief, was ‘democratically’ elected for another five-year term. Never before in the history of democracy has there been a bigger farce. General Musharraf launched a coup de tat against a democratically elected government in 1999. Over this time period, he has appointed military officers on nearly every government institution – to the extent that the Vice Chancellors of almost all major state universities today are retired Generals. His rule has also seen the army grow into the country’s largest business conglomerate. Meanwhile, soaring inflation, a fast deteriorating crime situation, rampant white-collar corruption, absence of publicly provided education, healthcare or even drinking water for most, a growing disparity between the rich and poor and plummeting credibility of the state has left ordinary people in a state of complete and utter misery.
After ruling the country for eight years as a General, Musharraf is now preparing to put a garb of democracy around his dictatorship. As the country’s impotent parliament, which consists mainly of scions of feudal families, comes to the end of their term in one months time, Musharraf asked them to elect him, a serving General of the army, as the next President of the country. Various modifications made to the country’s constitution by previous military regimes have already ensured that all power is vested in the President, rather than the Prime Minister.
This transition to elected status is based on a politics of vested-interests and naked opportunism. The October 6 election essentially celebrates Musharraf’s success in blackmailing the parliament. In recent years, there was tremendous pressure on Musharraf to doff his uniform if he was to continue in Pakistan‘s politics. Bowing to this pressure, Musharraf announced that he would stand for election as President of the republic. However, he would only go through this election (by a parliament whose own term ends in a few days) as a serving Army Chief. That the constitution of the country prohibits a public office holder from running for election is a minor detail that was conveniently swept under the carpet, with some help from pliable Supreme Court judges. If elected, he promises to resign as a General. If not elected, he will stay as Army Chief. Given that the Army Chief’s role essentially is to hold the entire country hostage at all times, it is a case of Heads I win, Tales you lose. If you thought this situation was ridiculous beyond belief, consider this.
Within a couple of years of taking up power, Musharraf evicted both Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan People’s Party – PPP) and Nawaz Sharif (Pakistan Muslim League – PML) from Pakistan. Both readily went abroad to escape imprisonment for their many misdemeanours. After more than five years of exile, however, sensing a wave of resentment against the General, a few months ago, Sharif decided to return to the country. The Supreme Court, in a historic verdict, cleared the way for his return. Aware that the return of Sharif could pose a challenge for him, in a flagrant violation of the Supreme Court’s order, Musharraf had Sharif forcibly deported to Saudi Arabia within a few hours of his arrival in Islamabad, claiming that Sharif had made a deal with him agreeing to stay out of the country for 10 years (Sharif claims it was 5 years).
With Sharif out of the way, Musharraf now needed the support of Bhutto’s PPP, still considered to be the biggest political party in Pakistan. In a move that deeply embarrassed her entire party, Bhutto shamelessly put a price on her support: if Musharraf, a military dictator, would share power with her, and drop all outstanding charges of embezzlement and corruption against her, she would support him. If you can get over the fact that the leader of a popular party would brazenly legitimize a dictatorial regime in exchange for a share in it, or that the entire country is convinced that Bhutto and her husband embezzled billions of dollars worth of taxpayer’s mony while in power, try this for size: Bhutto has reached a deal with Musharraf, whereby a legal ordinance will be promulgated, which wipes out all outstanding charges against all public office holders levied between 1988 and 1999. This ordinance will not be challengeable in any court. Ten years of corruption has just been wiped off the record! The people of Pakistan can only stare in sheer amazement over the gall of both Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. Usurping power or providing legitimacy to a dictator is one thing, but legalizing 10 years’ worth of corruption defies belief!
What is pertinent here is that all these deals have been orchestrated by the United States, and wherever possible, by the British government. This is a fact that is readily admitted by both Musharraf and Bhutto. Bhutto is eternally thankful to the Americans for helping us wipe her slate clean, and bringing her back into the folds of power, and in return, has offered to hand over the country’s top nuclear scientist to them in addition to allowing them to strike at targets within Pakistan. The only obstacle now between her and the position of Prime Minister is a clause of the constitution which prohibits one from becoming Prime Minister a third time. In phase 2 of this deal, which would put all great train robberies to shame, she wants Musharraf to amend the constitution so that it is no longer an obstacle to her assuming the Prime Ministerial position a third time.
On October 6, General Musharraf, with Bhutto’s support became the elected President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The price for that was paid by the 160 million people of Pakistan as the last vestiges of democracy in the country were laid to rest. It is vitally important that this new era of so-called democracy is seen for what it is: the biggest eyewash in the history of this troubled country. This government, built on crushed hopes, betrayed aspirations and the burnt ashes of a democratic process, must never be taken as a legitimate player in international politics. What must also not be taken seriously again is the rhetoric of democracy, good governance and transparency that is peddled by the US State Department and the British Foreign Office. The foundations of the new government cannot be any weaker in Pakistan. The so-called ‘war-against-terror’ that has motivated the US and Britain to prop up Musharraf’s failing dictatorship, is likely to only intensify with such brazen violation of the basic rights of the people of Pakistan.