Hopes For Pakistan Democracy: UPI
South Asia Features
Hopes for Pakistan democracyBy Rosalie Westenskow
United Press International: Jun 5, 2007
WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- The clash between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and judicial leaders has caused a political crisis in the country but may precipitate greater democratization.
Musharraf dismissed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry March 9 for abuses of power and corruption. Soon after Chaudhry`s exodus, though, several domestic and international groups questioned Musharraf`s motives, calling the move an attempt to manipulate the country`s presidential and parliamentary elections this fall so as to ensure he remains in power.
Judges resigned, citizens protested and several international organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists, decried Musharraf and his political tactics. National disquiet turned tumultuous two weeks ago in the southern city of Karachi when protesters stormed the streets in support of Chaudhry, who was scheduled to speak in the city the same day. Rioters threw stones and blocked roads, clashing with each other and police in bouts of gunfire that left more than 40 dead.
'I would call it the people`s movement for the rule of law,' Hassan Abbas, a research fellow for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University and former Pakistani government official, said at a recent panel discussion at The Heritage Foundation in Washington.
'The people thought, `If this can happen to the chief justice, then what hope have we of obtaining justice?`'
The current judicial crisis is a 'defining moment' for Pakistan, Abbas said, and its outcome will turn the tide of Pakistani politics -- for better or worse.
Human rights activists, lawyers and the country`s intelligentsia have spearheaded the movement, as opposed to religious extremists, which bodes well for those encouraging political change.
'This show of strength by the liberal sectors of Pakistani society is very encouraging,' Abbas said.
Musharraf`s critics demand he surrender his position as army chief, which he retained after leading the military coup in 1999 that made him president, and hold fair elections this coming November -- the very issues most believe prompted Chaudhry`s dismissal.
'I think Musharraf`s delusion (of complete power) is incurable and by virtue of this he has become a liability for Pakistan and the United States,' Abbas said. 'There should be no panic button in the United States to think, `If Musharraf is gone what happens?` These changes historically have not led to any violence (in Pakistan).'
However, the current tension has sparked concern among many Western circles, and the United States continues to back Musharraf.
Uncertainty about what would follow Musharraf`s loss of power may be the key motive behind the U.S. stance, said Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow for The Heritage Foundation.
'I think (U.S. officials) are doing that because they want to preserve stability in the country,' Curtis told United Press International.
This policy could be risky, though, Curtis said, because encouraging an authoritarian approach might fuel Islamic extremism in the country.
'I think they should be encouraging Musharraf to make some sort of political deal with mainstream (political) parties,' she said.
A move to do so could constitute Musharraf`s best avenue to retaining the presidency, said Najam Sethi, editor of a Pakistan weekly, The Friday Times.
'If he deals with the People`s Party ... it`s not a foregone conclusion he can`t be elected for the next five years,' he said.
Keeping Musharraf in power may seem like a bad idea, given his recent actions and level of control, but it may prove the most effective transition into democracy for Pakistan, Sethi said.
'Theoretically speaking, there`s nothing like democracy,' he said. 'However, if Musharraf is ousted tomorrow and we go back to full-fledged democracy, with 20 different centers of power, we`ll be in an unworkable situation.'
An unadulterated democratic government would face difficulties maintaining the peace with India Musharraf has instituted since coming to power, and Pakistani-American relations might suffer because of the reflection of public sentiment in a democracy.
'The majority of people in Pakistan don`t want to continue this war on terror; they want this alliance with America to end,' Sethi said.
However, the public outcry over Chaudhry`s dismissal has already caused small steps toward democracy, and this could lead to larger gains in the near future.
'It`s extremely significant that for the first time in history public pressure has forced the judiciary to stand up,' Sethi said. 'The judiciary is not going to be the same again, and I think this will have long-term effects on the development of democracy.'