OP-ED: Mushy US public — Ahmad Faruqui
Americans are seeing through the self-serving nature of Musharraf’s protestations. His strategy stands exposed. Even Goebbels knew that if repetition does not work, the game is over. But Musharraf refuses to take a hint
While the Bush Administration continues to wax eloquent on President Pervez Musharraf’s commitment to democracy, the same is not true of the American public. Ample evidence on this score surfaced at two recent gatherings in San Francisco.
The first was a panel discussion on “The Crisis in Pakistan” at the University of California, Berkeley, sponsored by the Centre for South Asian Studies. The mostly academic audience also included a few people who lived in the neighbourhood.
The second was a private gathering of some thirty people at a suburban residence. They belonged to an international club that included people who had lived abroad or hosted foreign families.
I expected both groups to be aware of Musharraf’s high profile role in the global war on terror. That turned out to be true. However, it was very clear that, with very few exceptions, people held Bush in very low esteem, especially when it came to assessing how he was waging the war on terror. This low opinion of Bush transferred one-on-one to Musharraf.
I began by summarising how Musharraf had seized power eight years ago and how he had tampered with the constitution and tailored the political process to stay in power. Then I detailed the events of this year.
I knew that the American audiences would be painfully aware of the circumstances that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974. A special prosecutor found him guilty of having authorised the bugging of the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters, an impeachable offence. The roof caved in on Nixon when his own party members turned on him.
So when I told the people what Musharraf had done in Pakistan on the 3rd of November, they were stunned. In the second gathering, I asked them to imagine the following denouement:
* President Bush, who is constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third term in office, gets himself re-elected by calling for a vote in the existing Electoral College
* He declares a state of emergency and suspends the US Constitution
* Fearing a negative decision by the US Supreme Court, he places the Chief Justice and several other justices under house arrest for engaging in judicial activism and threatening the security of the state
* As the lawyers take to the streets and mount a nationwide protest, he has them arrested under the PATRIOT Act. Ultimately, a quarter of the members of the American Bar Association are put behind bars, bringing the legal system of the state to a standstill
* The leaders of the Democratic Party are arrested because they are stated to have become an impediment to true democracy
* He invokes Abraham Lincoln to justify his actions
I asked the group to imagine what would happen in the US if this scenario came to pass. There was dead silence. So then I asked them to imagine another scenario. It is not a twice-elected president who carries out these acts but the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This man had mounted a coup eight years ago, then declared himself president and kept on extending his rule through a series of extra-constitutional measures.
At this point, there was little more left for me to say so I opened it up to questions. They came fast and furious. Why are we continuing to support the general, especially when he is using American weapons to kill his own people? Are Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in safe hands and will they stay in safe-hands in a post-Musharraf future? Why is Musharraf unable to catch Osama? Will he turn him over to the US if he captures him? Will Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif hold together or split apart during the elections? Will the January 8 elections be fair? Will they change anything?
Interestingly, no one questioned Pakistan’s ability to be a democracy and to be governed by the rule of law. A few were aware of Musharraf’s presidential acceptance speech in which he lambasted the West for seeking to impose its democratic vision on Pakistan and warned the US of dire consequences if it abandoned Pakistan.
Americans are seeing through the self-serving nature of Musharraf’s protestations. His strategy stands exposed. Even Goebbels knew that if repetition does not work, the game is over. But Musharraf refuses to take a hint.
As I came home that evening, I received an email from two US human rights activists, Medea Benjamin and Tighe Barry, telling me how they had been arrested in Lahore on December 4 after attending a student rally at the Lahore Press Club. The Pakistani authorities never charged them with anything but deported them to the US.
They flew directly to Washington, hoping to convince the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that it should withhold assistance to the Musharraf dictatorship. They were indignant when they saw Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, testifying before the committee that Pakistan was “on the road to democracy” and that Musharraf’s emergency was just a “bump in the road”. Essentially, Boucher was saying that the sacking of judges was a mere reshuffling of the courts.
Barry wanted to testify before the committee on how Boucher’s statements were completely false. Alas, he was told that the roster of witnesses was full. Well, he was not going to let parliamentary niceties get in the way. He stood up and described how lawyers and students had been beaten and jailed by the police and how the press had been stifled. For speaking the truth, Barry was pulled out of the room, handcuffed, and put in a paddy wagon.
“I felt compelled to do this for the sake of my friends in Pakistan,” Barry said as they took him away. “Pakistanis risk their lives standing up to their government; I have to stand up to mine.”
He was cited and released, and must appear in Court on December 27 to face charges of Disorderly Conduct.
It was not just the peace activists who were indignant at the Bush Administration for supporting a general. The American Bar Association declared, “The arrests of Pakistan’s Supreme Court justices, and of thousands of lawyers, judges and civil leaders, are a profound breach of the rule of law.” The National Law Journal picked Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry as Lawyer of the Year. As the year drew to a close, change was in the air.
Ahmad Faruqui, an American economist, is the author of “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan,” Ashgate Publishing, UK