Some election, some democracy!

Some election, some democracy!

THERE are some things I never seem to figure. What, for instance, the UK authorities are still trying to prove or disprove, a decade after the death of Princess Diana and boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed?

Or take the case of Bush’s election.  I mean you can understand he managed to make it to the White House with the blessings of the US Supreme Court after that tie with Al Gore. But I can’t for the life of me see why the Americans opted to stick with him for a second time!

Another hard nut to crack is Pakistan’s preoccupation with the men in khaki. The Pakistani generals’ compelling inability to allow the politicians to run the country, as is the practice in rest of the world, is most intriguing.

If the very fact of Pakistani generals frequently usurping power that does not belong to them is surprising, what is more fascinating is the fact that every time they seem to get away with it.

Okay, I agree Pakistan has been extraordinarily and repeatedly unlucky with its share of politicians.

You can’t name even one politician who has proved himself or herself worthy of people’s mandate and trust.  From the earliest of Pakistani politicians to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and from Benazir Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif, it has been the same saga of reckless abuse of power and all round corruption.

But then corrupt and self-serving politicians are not exclusive to Pakistan.  Its neighbour and separated-at-birth twin, India, has had its fair share of the lot. It sill has many of them in power. 

Many other nations in the neighbourhood and the world at large continue to battle corruption in high places. As Lord Acton warned: ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

This is why Khrushchev concluded that politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge where there is no river!

But even when the abuse of power touched alarming levels elsewhere — as it did in India under Indira Gandhi during Emergency years – the army there never dared to step out of the barracks to flirt with power.

In fact, it has never been explored as a possibility and has never been a part of political discourse in India or other countries that won freedom around the same time as Pakistan did.

So why is it that it’s only in Pakistan that the generals are so inexorably preoccupied with power?  Maybe it has something to do with the insecurity complex vis-à-vis India that has plagued the Islamic republic since the Partition. 

The fact that India played a not too insignificant role in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 hasn’t really helped the matters.

But whatever the factors driving the generals’ craving for power, it is at the heart of Pakistan’s dangerous and never-ending instability and most of its existential problems.

The army has ruled Pakistan, off and on, for nearly 40 years during its 60-year long history.  Interestingly, this subversion of Pakistan’s political infrastructure and repeated mockery of democracy has taken place with the blessings of and at the behest of the world’s most powerful democracy. From Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s ‘managed democracy’ to Gen Zia ul Haq’s ‘non-party democracy’, the US has actively colluded with the generals to keep honest and independent-minded politicians out.  

Who gives a damn if in the process the country’s institutions are undermined and eventually destroyed!  What matters is national interest.  That is, the US national interest! 

This is why Washington has stood by Musharraf over the past nine years or so.  And now it has ensured their man in Islamabad continues in power for another five years – or as long as Washington wants. 

As far as the US is concerned, Musharraf’s election last week is perfectly valid.  Hasn’t the General got 99 per cent votes? Just as other friends of Washington in the Muslim world get elected with 90 per cent plus votes!

So who cares if the entire opposition did not take part in the poll? So what even the ‘friendly opposition’ – Benazir’s PPP – says it will not accept a president in uniform? But for US, this election is legitimate.

This is some election, which was boycotted by every political party except the King’s party – Quisling League.  In fact, the entire opposition had resigned ahead of October 6 election.  And this is some democracy in which an outgoing parliament whose own term ends next month got to ‘elect’ the president!

In the run up to this free and fair poll, Musharraf had promised to shed his uniform if he got elected.  But if he failed to win the vote, the General reasoned, he would still be the army chief and rule the country!

The General let everyone know including the Supreme Court that he was determined to win, election or no election! A classic case of heads I win, tales you lose, you might say.

No wonder a besieged Supreme Court, which renewed hope in the country with its recent activism, developed cold feet and postponed its verdict on Musharraf election to Oct 18 – after the vote on Oct 6!   It was rather nice and convenient for the General.    So what is the big deal if the court wanted the outcome of the vote kept under the wraps until its own verdict on Oct 17?

Chief election commissioner Qazi Farooq obviously knows which side his bread is buttered. He went ahead and announced the results despite the bar by the SC.  And Musharraf himself lost no time in thanking Almighty for his ‘landslide victory.’

Can you imagine such utter contempt for the highest court in the land elsewhere?  But then this isn’t the first time Pakistan’s rulers have shown the judiciary its place.   

Last month, they forcibly put a former prime minister on a plane to Jeddah. Now I have no sympathy for Sharif and his kind.  But however corrupt, he had every right to return to his homeland, as Supreme Court headed by chief justice Chaudhry rightly ruled. 

On the other hand, the General has no qualms in striking a ‘deal’ with another equally corrupt former prime minister.

Strangely enough, neither Musharraf nor Benazir have any shame in confirming they have indeed struck the ‘deal’ to share power.  BB of course insists it’s all part of her noble commitment to democracy. 

The General keeps talking of a scrap of paper that Sharif is supposed to have signed giving up his right to return to Pakistan.  This despite the fact that such an agreement has no legal sanctity whatsoever and stands no chance in any court of law anywhere in the world. 

And the supreme court made this clear in unambiguous terms.   But the blanket amnesty that the General has granted to Benazir in the name of ‘national reconciliation’ that neatly covers all corruption cases against the PPP leader but keeps Sharif out in the cold is perfectly legal. 

Also, Musharraf’s own election is absolutely valid and legal. This notwithstanding the fact that the entire opposition didn’t take part in the vote and the jury is still out – literally — on this poll. 

In fact, compared to this, Bush’s own 2000 election looks almost sacred.

And all this wheeling-dealing and elaborate charade just to keep one man in power, even if his people – a nation of 170 million — do not want him. 

And all this of course wouldn’t be possible without the backing of Musharraf’s powerful friends in Washington.  Once again, the US, the great champion of democracy, freedom and human rights, presides over this farce in the name of democracy.   What’s going on in Musharraf’s Pakistan goes against all that the founding fathers of America believed in and stood for. 

Even as the US and rest of the West fret and fume over Burma slamming the junta for denying its people democracy and right to choose, they are blind to what is going on next door in Pakistan.  Because like President Roosevelt once argued with reference to a tyrant: “He may be a SOB, but he is our SOB.”

And Musharraf has convinced that the Americans and the West that if he goes, Pakistan will elect Osama Bin Laden as its president!  So democracy be damned! It’s now clear Washington pushed the General to take BB aboard. Sharif isn’t acceptable to the US because he is close to the Islamists.

More importantly, Sharif had been making noises about the free run the General has given to the Americans and the indiscriminate killing of innocents as part of the US terror war (Just look at what they’ve done in troubled tribal belt.

Most of those killed this past week – at least 300 – were women and children).

On the other hand, Benazir cosied up to Washington by vowing to deal with the militants and allowing the US to strike inside Pakistan. 

So Musharraf and Benazir are on the same side and right side of the coalition of the willing. And what is a principle or two between friends! 

After all, this isn’t the first time the US has chucked democracy, fair play and all the ideals that once inspired it out in the name of that nice sounding myth called ‘national interest’.

They have colluded or at least looked the other way as their friends keep real and genuinely democratic players out of the political process across the Muslim world.

From Egypt to Algeria and from Palestine to Pakistan, it’s the same story. 

It is these double standards that are at the heart of the instability and unrest in the Muslim world. And it’s this double-dealing that gave birth to America’s nightmare called OBL.   

 Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Khaleej Times staff writer and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected])