Commonwealth had common sense

In response to Commonwealth’s Secretary General Donald Mckinnon’s strongest ever criticism of Pakistan’s military government, this column was titled “Commonwealth needs common sense” on April 25, 2002.

Now that Commonwealth has accepted Pakistan back into its fold, many realities are dawning upon us. It shows commonwealth had common sense in the first place; it is only we, who could not understand why it was so strongly opposed to the military coup in the beginning.

Now that C’wealth considers the following hallmarks of General Musharraf’s regime as “productive changes,” one finds no problem in concluding that the problem was not with the state of democracy in Pakistan but the presumed lack of softness in Pak-military towards exploitation that resulted in knee-jerk reaction from C’wealth.

Now that Musharraf has surpassed all previous military and civilian governments in softness towards external exploitation, Pakistan is considered a democracy despite the present regime’s:

1. taking cosmetic steps towards democracy, including massively rigged referendum in April and "deeply flawed" elections in October, 2002;

2. introducing 29 amendments to the constitution as a package known as the Legal Framework Order (LFO);

3. coercing the new parliament into endorsing the LFO after a soft promise by the General to remove his military uniform by the end of 2004 –” a date that seems too far away for C’wealth to wait;

4. deceiving majority of the parliamentarians into voting for constitutional amendments only after withdrawing the provision of a military-dominated National Security Council (NSC) with broad powers;

5. reneging and creating the NSC through another legislation steamrollered through parliament;

6. depriving the country of an independent judiciary; and

7. deporting Shahbaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia upon his return home from exile even though the Supreme Court had recognized his right to return.

Up to 9/11, when General Musharraf was serious in serving Pakistan, C’wealth was upset with him. Now that he has proved that serves only himself and the US far better than Nawaz or Benazir, C’wealth has decided to let the most favored dictator continue with the rape of Pakistan under the label of democracy.

C’wealth actually rewards the General for conceding everything the Americans had on their imperious list of demands after receiving just a few threatening and arrogant outbursts from President Bush and Collin Powell after 9/11.

It is a reward for his not saying, as forgivably he might have, that he would look into the US demands, or that he would consult public opinion before formulating Pakistan’s response.

General’s surrender brought multiple rewards for him. Pakistan on the other hand is getting exactly what he was afraid of: violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty with almost daily US incursions into Pakistan’s territory.

The US is making an example of Pakistan, not through flattening its airfields, destroying its installations, taking out its ‘nuclear strategic assets’ in blind anger, but through more effective ways of domination. Pak-military allowed the wretched assets, which were supposed to be Pakistan’s ultimate defence, to be used against itsr own people and for occupation of another Muslim country.

C’wealth rewards Pakistan for being a state without a spine of its own, dependent on foreign capital and run by the military under the foreign influence.

For the medals of democracy General Musharraf is receiving, all he has done is turning Pakistan into a state in which the ghosts of all legendary dictators would feel at home.

C’wealth has rewarded Pakistan for handing over to “coalition’ forces Pakistan’s airbases in Sindh and Balochistan, parts of Karachi airport, and troops to help catch fleeing Al-Qaida fighters and innocent Afghans and send them over to the US concentration camps without any distinction between innocent and guilty.

It is a reward for the fawning attention Pakistani generals give to Gen Tommy Franks and Collin Powell, when they visit Islamabad. C’wealth seems really impressed with the way Pakistan’s military chiefs hang on their guests’ every word, smiling effusively as they make their points.

The idea of rewarding Musharraf’s dictatorship with the label of democracy is also the result of Bush’s extended exercise in arrogance in his State-of-the-Union address to the US Congress, whereby he mentioned only two foreign leaders with undeserving praise: Hamid Karzai and General Musharraf.

In today’s environment, tyrants and their cronies are rubbing hands in glee at Bush’s testimonial and Commonwealth’s reward. In the era of national liberation in mid 20th century, such American endorsement of its most favored dictators would have surely been seen as a kiss of death and a confirmation of client status of the countries concerned.

All that Pakistan has achieved since 2001 is stretching its willingness to serve Washington beyond the limits of loyalty. Pakistan’s singular achievement since being press-ganged into service for the American interests is allowing a self-deluded dictator to turn dictatorship into an art.

The contours of domestic and foreign policy were set long before the so-called elections and transfer of power. Civilian incumbents were warned against any intention to disturb the set limits.

If Musharraf deserves a real reward, he deserves it for perfecting dictatorship. The great thing about his democracy is that the political opportunists are willing to play the game on his terms. Political parties took part in the elections much on the military terms. They are now playing the democracy drama on the military’s wages for their own interest.

These characteristics of self-destruction are what the commonwealth thought would be missing if the General remained as serious as he seemed on October 12, 1999.

C’wealth is now pleased to bless dictatorship with the label of democracy because the tyrant’s submissiveness stands out in an environment in which apart from Syria’s courage, Iran’s stand on principles; and Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab state’s refusal to assist the US in occupation of Iraq, even India refuses to speak with a client-tongue to the US.

Along this arc of defiance, Musharraf stands out for his readiness to concede anything at his disposal and accede, at whatever price, to Washington’s wishes.

What is the unspoken justification for the dramatic shift in C’wealth’s policy towards Pakistan? That Pakistan is leaving the past behind and entering the modern world? The reality, however, is in stark contrast to what the General presents to the world.

In its ‘jihadi’ mode Pak-military enjoyed the hosannas of Washington which was all for ‘jihad’ east and west along with its European allies. In its post-Soviet Union phase Pak-military’s praises, for its smart turnaround, are being sung by Washington and its ‘coalition’ partners.

Whatever else may be lacking in Pakistan army, the spirit of taking U-turns and collaboration for self-interest is not. Nor the spirit of quick surrender abroad and insensitiveness at home.

An intelligence officer asked me the other day, if I have ever been to Jihadi camps in tribal areas in Pakistan. The truth I could tell is that there have never been any military training camps for Jihad in Pakistan’s tribal or settled areas, other than those set up and run by Pak-military at its facilities, fully financed by the US.

Even all the Taliban training camps were alive with the blessing of ISI and the full knowledge of Washington. The same military is still at centre-stage, only its Greek chorus replaced, the battalions of Jihad taking the place of the discomfited ‘moderates,’ again all financed by the US. The irony is delicious but lost on the Western public, whose governments as ever are bent upon rewarding their strongmen at any cost.

From petty informants to “liberal” Muslims and Chalabi and Musharraf, no one tells the truth. Pakistan’s military shift to modernism is a part of the overall strategy for marketing dictatorship. How does this make any sense when the military refuses to let democracy grow?

Modernism is not simply about restricting the space around the mosque and the pulpit for the pleasure of propaganda pundits in Washington. It is more about participatory democracy. If the military is changing its feathers in a bid to show that it is getting rid of its US-sponsored Jihad-aberration, it is getting rid of one frenzy for another, not breaking revolutionary ground for democracy.

C’wealth decision about Pakistan gives us an opportunity to assess not only the unjust rewards and punishments for democracy, but also the moribund state to which the concept of democracy has actually been reduced.