Vexed with the West

The people of Pakistan are not impressed with unsolicited sermons on democracy. There is, says B. MURALIDHAR REDDY, a sense of hurt over the attitude of the West.

THE MILITARY has ruled Pakistan, directly or indirectly, for more years than elected Governments. But, perhaps, never has the country faced the kind of pressure it does today from the rest of the world for restoration of democratic rule.

Every conceivable leader and institution around the globe has deemed it necessary to either politely or bluntly impress upon Gen. Pervez Musharraf the urgent need to hand over power to elected representatives and send the Army back to the barracks. The United States and Japan, the Commonwealth and the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are among those in the forefront of the campaign for `restoration of democracy' in Pakistan. Diplomatic and economic leverage has been freely employed to deliver message after message to the military Government since the coup in October, 1999.

But the simple truth is the people of Pakistan are not impressed with unsolicited sermons on democracy. The visit of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Mr. Don McKinnon, is a case in point. The general perception of the media and the intelligentsia in Pakistan is that the rest of the world is being hypercritical in its approach to the military Government. The people of Pakistan have their reservations about the Army being at the helm of affairs, but, at the same time, they believe that the rest of the world cannot escape blame for the current state of affairs.

There is a sense of hurt over the attitude of the West, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the changed global realities. Pakistanis believe they have been abandoned after being used as pawns on the international chessboard for the first 40 years of their country's existence.

Pakistan was the frontline ally of the U.S. and the rest of the West in their fight against the Soviet Union and it mattered little to the West who ruled in Islamabad. The Afghan war was fought with Pakistan under the thumb of the military dictator, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. The consensus is that he was the most tyrannical of all the military rulers since 1958.

The common refrain in Pakistan is that much of the present evils in its society are a direct result of the Afghan conflict. These include the politics of Jehad, the gun and drug culture and Talibanisation. Should not the Western powers bear responsibility for these and help Pakistan?

So, the present exhortations from the world leaders only evoke apathy and anger. There is also the firm belief that the ``return to democracy'' campaign is more on account of the fears nuclear Pakistan generates than from any genuine concern for democracy.

Given the changed geo-political equations and the emergence of a unipolar world, Pakistan does not enjoy the same strategic importance it did till 1990. At the same time, with Pakistan going overtly nuclear, no power can afford to ignore it. And the Pakistanis, both the establishment and the people, are fully conscious of this.

The threat of South Asia becoming the theatre of a nuclear holocaust because of the tensions over Kashmir between India and Pakistan is the dominant theme of every foreign visitor to Islamabad. The rest of the world seems to endorse the apprehensions of New Delhi that the nuclear status of Pakistan is all the more reason for a representative Government to be in charge.

However, Gen. Musharraf is not bothered by the global campaign, notwithstanding the tremendous problems Pakistan faces particularly on the economic front. He is proceeding at his own pace towards establishment of what he terms ``genuine rather than sham democracy''.

The all-round price hikes and absence of any spectacular achievements since the military takeover have certainly disappointed the common people but at the same they are not desperately awaiting the return of the politicians. The reason: `disgust' with the political class, seen as completely corrupt. And, deep fissures in the mainstream parties of Pakistan have made the military's job easier.

Gen. Musharraf has undoubtedly succeeded in creating a consensus in the country that the politicians have done little good for the welfare of the people and have only lined their own pockets. At the same time, his Government has nothing to show in terms of achievements. So it is difficult to guess how long it can continue at the present pace on the basis of a single-point programme of politician-bashing.

No one is sure if Gen. Musharraf will indeed stick to the time- frame of three years (from October 12, 1999) for restoration of democracy. So far, he has announced a plan for holding of elections to the local bodies with an ambitious agenda for devolution of powers at the grass-root level. These elections spread over eight months will be on a non-party basis. The plan has been largely denounced as illogical and unworkable. Undeterred, the General is chugging along.

The military Government has initiated a series of measures in the last few months that are largely perceived to be vindictive against popular leaders of the main parties. These include the so-called accountability drive, under which several prominent leaders have been booked for their alleged acts of omission and commission, and the amendments to the Political Parties Act barring individuals convicted on charges of corruption from holding party posts. The legislation, in effect, dethrones the two former Prime Ministers, Mr. Nawaz Sharif and Ms. Benazir Bhutto, as leaders of their parties.

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