What Musharraf must do now: Financial Times

What Musharraf must do now
Financial Times editorial: November 18 2007

The current political situation in Pakistan is a perfect illustration of the maxim that democracy is about much more than voting. After declaring a state of emergency, dismissing most of the Supreme Court and locking up many leading intellectuals, it was inevitable that General Pervez Musharraf would come under pressure from his western backers to “restore democracy”. They do not want to endorse military dictatorship. And there are also tricky American legal requirements which might restrict the flow of aid to Pakistan, if Gen Musharraf is too openly undemocratic.

So the general is trying to oblige. He has declared that elections will now go ahead in January. He has, thankfully, begun to release some of those locked up under martial law. On Friday, the government ended the house arrest of Asma Jahangir, a leading lawyer.

More concessions can be expected. Gen Musharraf may finally decide to heed a longstanding opposition demand – reiterated by President George W. Bush – that he “take off the uniform”. This means that if he insists on serving another term as president it will be as a civilian ruler rather than as a military man. At some point before the elections in January, the Pakistani government may ease its restrictions on the media. The government will also be under pressure to lift martial law completely. It is impossible to see how anybody can pronounce the magic words, “free and fair”, if elections are conducted under emergency rule and boycotted by the main opposition parties.

Yet even if Gen Musharraf does all of that, there is another test that should be insisted on by those who are serious about democracy in Pakistan. Gen Musharraf must respect the independence of the judiciary and, in particular, the Supreme Court.

The origins of the current crisis lie in the clash earlier this year between the general and Iftikhar Chaudhary, the court’s chief justice. Gen Musharraf’s decision to impose emergency rule this month was almost certainly provoked by a fear that the Supreme Court would rule that his recent re-election as president was illegal. In effect, Gen Musharraf sacked the Supreme Court before it could sack him.

Since then the president has set about appointing a new, more pliant Supreme Court. The freshly appointed judges will be expected to rubber-stamp his new presidential term and the next parliamentary elections. But no country can be called truly democratic with a puppet judiciary. The outside world should remind Gen Musharraf of this fundamental point.

Also See:
Musharraf remains the US's best option
By M K Bhadrakumar: Asia Times, November 17, 2007

The visit by US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to Islamabad on Friday has a parallel in an extraordinary American mission jointly undertaken by the then-secretary of state Warren Christopher and national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to the Pakistani capital almost 28 years ago. The photograph of Brzezinski at the Khyber Pass peering down the sights of an AK-47 into Afghanistan under Soviet occupation still stands out in the annals of the Cold War.

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