Not a banana republic?

Not a banana republic?
Reality check
By Shafqat Mahmood; The News - September 29, 2006

The writer is a former member of parliament and a freelance columnist based in Lahore

A general who takes over the country through a coup and rules by force says we are not a banana republic. This term was used to describe Latin American countries that grew bananas and were ruled by generals. We don't grow enough bananas but generals always seem to be ruling us. What is our category then?

Here are some facts. When a power outage affects large parts of the country, rumours emerge of a coup and expand like a tsunami. No one thinks of the constitution or the courts, no one worries about legality or the rule of law. The news seems so credible that federal ministers call journalists and journalist stand around TV stations waiting for the tanks to arrive.

Our ruling general says that these stories were the product of a sick mind. There must be an awful lot of sick minds in the country because no one questioned the possibility of a coup. There were arguments for and against it and these centred around circumstances and personalities of the people involved. But, no one doubted that it could happen. Colin Powell is quoted by Bob Woodward as saying that he made seven demands of Pakistan and would have been satisfied if three or four had been accepted. Our general agreed to five.

The simple question is that either the policy supporting the Taliban until September 11 was wrong and not in our national interest or it was right and in the best interest of the country. If it was wrong, it should have been changed anyway. If it was right, we should have stuck to our guns, literally, whatever the consequences. From the circumstances narrated by the general in his book, it appears that the policy was right but he was intimidated. He 'war gamed' an onslaught from the US and concluded we couldn't take it.

We are not a banana republic but the decision to facilitate the American attack on Afghanistan was taken by one man. The people had no role in this decision and nor did any of the representative institutions because they simply did not exist. The content of the decision is important but the process is equally important. They only process we had were the mental calculations of one man who concluded that if you can't fight 'em, join 'em.

We are not a banana republic but we have become bounty hunters. The general says in his book that Pakistan was given head money for delivering Al Qaeda suspects to the Americans [he later backtracked on these remarks]. This raises many questions. Was the government of Pakistan hunting terrorists because it was its legal and moral duty to do so or was it being done to make money? If it was not for money, then why was the money received? Americans could have increased our aid if they were happy with us but why receive head money? No wonder an American official had the audacity to suggest some time back that we would sell our mothers to make a few bucks.

There are other questions regarding this bounty hunting deal. Was the money received deposited in government coffers or was it given to individuals including the general himself? If it came into government coffers, there must be a record of it and it had to be reflected in some budgetary head. Was this done? This issue cannot be allowed to rest. We have given nearly four hundred Al Qaeda suspects to the Americans. How much money was received in return and where did it go. This information must be made public and the beneficiaries identified.

We are not a banana republic yet our top nuclear scientist is able to smuggle eighteen tons of nuclear material out of the country without any state agency knowing about it. General Musharraf says that even the army was not aware of what was going on. This is breathtaking because not only was the army guarding our nuclear installations but a C-130 air force plane was used to transport this material. If the general is to be believed, one nuclear scientist not only became bigger than the civilian government, which was not too difficult, but became more powerful than even our defence services. This just beggars belief.

We are not a banana republic but the Supreme Court decided a few days ago that the high courts have no jurisdiction to question the decisions of military courts against servicemen. In democracies, the constitution provides a cover of justice to all citizens whether military or civilian and everyone has a right to approach the superior courts. Yes, the military does have the right to charge and try military offenders and civil organisations have their own systems of punishment. But, any aggrieved person has the right of appeal to superior civilian courts. Recently the supreme court in the US went to the extent of ruling that even non-citizens, and in this case those defined as Al Qaeda terrorists, also have the right to be tried in a normal civil court of law. Not here.

We are not a banana republic but the ruling general said not long ago that women get raped in this country because they want to migrate to Canada. Besides being highly insulting to women and in crass bad taste, it was also a tacit admission that raped women do not get justice here. The Women's Protection Bill was an opportunity for the general and for the fake government he has put in place to make amends. He and his cohorts instead decided to play politics and allowed a handful of mullahs to call the shots. In democracies, majorities decide but over here since fake assemblies mean nothing they are easily ignored or bypassed.

I have so far discussed some current questions but there is so much in our history, that can help us decide whether we are a banana republic or not. Not a single government since independence has been changed in the normal way. Since the death of Quaid-e-Azam and the murder of Liaqat Ali Khan every government in our history has either been kicked out or as in the case of Zia, the incumbent died. Normal transfer of power has just not happened. Among our civilian and elected prime ministers, one was shot, another hanged and two are languishing in exile.

Every election in our history, with the exception of 1970, has either been rigged or its results not accepted. Three of our ruling generals, including Musharraf, conducted rigged referendums to give a fig leaf of legitimacy to their power grab. We have a prime minister who cannot get elected as a local councillor on his own yet he won two national assembly seats.

The list goes on and on and the examples are endless. We can take any area of our national life and determine whether rule of law is the deciding principle or something else. You decide dear reader where we stand.

Also see:
Musharraf charm offensive belies Pakistan realities
By Paul Eckert, Boston Globe September 28, 2006

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With sales of his memoir surging, two White House meetings in a week and a witty performance on a hip American comedy show, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf appears to be on a public relations roll.

Experts warn, however, that any boost Musharraf gave Pakistan's troubled image could be short-lived if the key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism cannot curb Islamic militancy and make his mantra of "enlightened moderation" take root at home.

Musharraf flew to London on Thursday after a U.S. media blitz with his three-day-old memoir running fourth on the bestseller list, ahead of Irish rockers U2 and conservative TV host Bill O'Reilly.

The figure Musharraf cut is a far cry from a year ago, when he had a public shouting match in New York with Pakistani rights activists after he told media that some women in his country made rape claims to get money and immigration visas.

The public relations makeover was not lost on editorialists in Pakistan, even those critical of Musharraf's rule and his decision to publish his book, "In The Line of Fire," while in office.

"Though this may be through the eyes of a military man who overthrew an elected government, at least Pakistan is not in the news these days for honor killings or sectarian attacks," wrote The News on Thursday.

"It would be fair to say that General Musharraf has at least won the PR war during his US visit if nothing else," said the daily in an editorial.


But it will take more than charm for Pakistan to allay lingering concerns about its democratic record and allegations that parts of its establishment give support to Islamic extremists at home and in neighboring Afghanistan.

Musharraf was chosen to head Pakistan's army in 1998, and took control of the government a year later after the army launched a bloodless coup. Critics say he has damaged the country's political institutions while shoring up his rule.

U.S. scholar Robert Hathaway described Pakistan's image in the United States as "terrible, for a variety of reasons."

"Nuclear-armed, Muslim majority country run by a military dictator, many of whose people, indeed probably most of whose people, are sympathetic to our enemies," said Hathaway, director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, referring to the image Americans hold of Pakistan.

Pakistan's image suffers, above all, from the perception it harbors Osama bin Laden, and from concerns such as Musharraf's failure to amend Islamic "Hudood" laws that are harsh on rape victims and a pact with tribal leaders in North Waziristan that critics say may give Taliban Islamic militants a free pass.

Musharraf vigorously disputed his critics, both with clever repartee on the satirical "Daily Show" and forceful and earnest speeches at thinktanks in New York and Washington.

"He's a pretty good performer and that obviously makes an impression," said Teresita Schaffer, a South Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"But as far as his and Pakistan's image is concerned, what is going to speak most loudly is his actions," she added.

The small community of U.S. experts who follow Pakistan say the actions from Musharraf that will matter most will be progress on his pledge to stop incursions into Afghanistan by Taliban militants who hide in mountainous border regions.

Experts who believe that the plain-spoken Musharraf mostly means what he says with counter-terrorism pledges still doubt whether he can follow through, dependent as he is on the support of Islamist parties who oppose his agenda.

"With the coalition that he has and the kind of support he has, he can't deliver on the frontier or domestically," said Marvin Weinbaum, a senior scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, who just returned from a tour of Pakistan.


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