05 December 2007

More on Musharraf

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

A couple weeks ago, I wrote that the protests in Pakistan, against General Pervez Musharraf’s various anti-constitutional actions, were a reflection of the vibrancy of Pakistani democracy – other appearances about that democracy notwithstanding. Well, the protests continue (at least according to a report by Reuters today), but the situation has changed: Musharraf, who had been unconstitutionally holding both the civilian post of president and the military position of chief of the army, stepped down from his military spot. And he is (however unwillingly) being forced to confront one, and possibly two, significant opponents for the next election, since both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have returned to the country and to its politics.

All of these changes (protests included) continue to look like positive indicators for the future of Pakistan, for a few reasons. First, take as a comparison the recent elections in Russia: there, President Vladimir Putin used his position to rig the polls while sustaining a crackdown on the citizenry that extended to just about every aspect of the media, and where the very few protests that have taken place have been rapidly dispersed. Granted, Pakistan has (after a fashion) more experience with democracy than Russia. Still, it is interesting to compare the actions of these two “strong men,” both of whom have claimed the best interests of their country as their primary concern. In Pakistan, some media have been attacked and some protests quashed, but the overwhelming view (as presented by news media around the world) is of an engaged citizenry fighting for their rights.

The second consideration is the more interesting one: given a choice, Musharraf chose the civilian post of president over the army – about which The Economist quoted him as saying “This army is my life, my passion.” As chief of the army Musharraf’s power over Pakistan might be less direct, but would also be stable; after all, it was from his military post that he overthrew Sharif’s government several years ago. Had Musharraf retired as president and stayed with the military, he would have retained a great degree of control. Opting for the civilian position instead speaks volumes about both Musharraf’s sense of his country’s future and the evolution of Pakistan itself. Much as Turkey, too, has evolved in recent years – another country in which the military has played a strong and (arguably) stabilizing role in the country’s democratic system – even allowing a mildly religious party to govern, so too could one read the tea leaves for Pakistan’s future. If Musharraf continues to govern, to retain the support of the army without its direct involvement in politics, and to lead the nation to free and fair elections – even if he does not win them – he will have achieved great things for his country and himself.


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