Wednesday, May 23, 2007

United States Belongs on the Side of Democracy

I was delighted to see the editorial in the New York Times today titled "Propping up the General". I have been impressed by the Times coverage of Pakistan over the last year. The editorial page and the reporters on the ground (Salman Masood, David Rohde, Carlotta Gall) have demonstrated a more firm handle on the causes and cures of Pakistan's chronic political instability than the Bush administration, which has a single-minded and misguided focus on keeping a general in power just because he is easier to deal with than any democratic government is likely to be. However, in pursuing this myopic policy, US is losing the little credibility it still posseses with moderates and reformers in the Muslim world. The recent protests against the Musharraf government, sparked by the ham-handed removal of the Chief Justice, have largely been powered by Pakistan's civil society led by the lawyers and the regional bar associations. This has been a movement remarkably free of religious undertones and its slogans have been focused on championing a free media and the rule of law.

The United States needs to unambiguously weigh in on the side of constitutional democratic governance and the people of Pakistan. It is the right position on moral and pragmatic grounds. Only consistent and clear support by the US government for civil society forces that advocate and struggle for a rule of law, democratic governance, free media and human rights will eventually create Muslim societies that are not a threat to themselves and the rest of the world. American governments often speak of these principles but rarely stand behind them when it matters most. Pakistan's courageous civil society (which sadly does not even look to the US for inspiration any more) is leading an inspiring struggle of the kind that American officials pray for in Iran, but in Pakistan it only results in banal State Department statements of support for our erstwhile uniformed ally. Pakistanis and the Muslim world will believe in America's rhetoric only if it consistently backs its own principles and does not sacrifice them at the altar of short term expediency. Only America has the clout to make a real difference in promoting freedom and stability in Pakistan and America needs to answer the call. We need not fear a democratic Pakistan. Only a country on a more solid democratic footing with a representative government can be a stable and reliable ally.

Here are the powerful words that end the NY Times editorial:
"A succession of uniformed dictators has misruled Pakistan for more than half of its 60-year history. All have advertised themselves as great friends of Washington, but all have fanned extremism while discrediting America’s reputation among ordinary Pakistanis. There is no security with General Musharraf. The United States belongs on the side of Pakistani democracy".


Zakintosh said...

The most telling comment in this post is: American governments often speak of these principles but rarely stand behind them when it matters most.

Every single uniformed dictator may have advertised itself as a friend of Washington ... but I don't recall Washington ever having lodged a complaint with Advertising Standards Association :-)

Jawad Zakariya said...

I have a fundamental objection to the whole tone of the article. It is implied that good or bad, the future of Pakistan is in the hands of the US. I and a few million Pakistani's would beg to differ. If I didn't know you better, I would've classified the tone of this article as 'patronizing' if not downright 'insulting', someone who doesn't know you will indeed classify it as such.

the olive ream said...

Unfortunately, the American government's record in support of 'real' democracy around the world has been rather dismal.

It is highly unlikely that the Bush or even the coming (2008) Administration will provide support for a popular nationalist democratic movement in any country. It goes against the grain of IMF, World Bank, and the corporate cartels who will not allow anything but a subservient government to Washington.

Fawad said...


I only partly agree with you. I have written before on my blog that no other country will or can ever hand Pakistanis a democratic government and a rule of law. To achieve this outcome Pakistanis will have to struggle themselves as they are doing today. All other countries work for their own supposed national interest and Pakistani peoples' welfare in a democratic order is low on their agenda.

However, as much as it bothers ordinary Pakistanis, because of shameful and pliant governments America still exercises an important influence in the direction of the state. I wish it was different but it is true. When the CM of Sindh states that Musharraf will stay in power because Allah, America and Army are with him what more can any outsider say that is any more disgusting.

In this environment, even though I have little hope, it is important that people in the US ask the government here to do what is right for America in Pakistan and in other Muslim countries by supporting a rule of law based government. I believe that in that context papers like the NY Times and the Washington Post are saying the right things and that is important. Even many newspapers have not understood the problems well in the past.