“President Musharraf today declared a state of emergency in Pakistan ahead of a crucial supreme court decision on whether to overturn his recent election win amid rising Islamist militant violence.” (1)
Troops have been deployed inside state-run TV and radio stations, while independent channels have gone off air. (2)Well, when I look at mullahs and radicals inside Pakistan, I’m outraged and frightened- both at the same time. What would happen to the country in absence of a powerful government? But does that mean Musharraf is indispensable for peace and order in the country? Can democracy really prevent Pakistan from slipping into chaos, anarchy and violence?
I really don’t know but I’ve admired Musharraf for bringing Pakistan where it stands now- it’s not so bad! I know people are angry and want ‘democracy’, but I have lost my faith on democratic leaders there as well. But we didn’t have any alternative, I wonder if they have?
Not many see the Islamists as able to take control. "One common factor in places where Islamists rise to power is the economy tanking," observes Richer. "But in Pakistan investment is taking off. It doesn't have many of the factors that drive religious elements taking power." (3)However, one cannot dismiss fears that Islamists would take control in absence of stronger democratic polity in the country.
Here’s an insightful interview with Asma Jehangir, Supreme Court lawyer and chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, who is internationally renowned as a tireless activist of the rights of women, children and religious minorities; a fearless voice against military rule and a dogged campaigner for democracy in her country. Complete interview here.
09-09, Magazine, The Hindu
Let’s start with the deal between Benazir Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf. How do you see these talks between the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, the largest democratic political opposition party, and a military ruler?
A dialogue is always positive, and if it is transparent, and it’s for a principle, then I believe that it is absolutely essential. But the way this whole dialogue has been handled — I would prefer not to call it a deal and I hope it does not end as one — is the secrecy of it; the objective of it.
What is the objective?
To those of us who have been at the forefront of a movement that wants democracy, we feel this dialogue actually gave the army another lifeline. The lawyers’ movement (for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary) made Musharraf feel vulnerable for the first time and to take advantage of that would have been correct, but in a different way.
Had the political parties all got together and said, ‘General, you are vulnerable, you have seen that people do not like army rule. Let’s sit down and talk about exit of the army’, I think people would have welcomed that.
But the manner in which this has been conducted, the fact that the ISI chief was the political broker in London does not augur well. Benazir has just given a statement that even Nelson Mandela had negotiations with the apartheid regime. I hope she will reread her history.
Nelson Mandela came to negotiations after he had broken the apartheid system. He was saying ‘now that we have broken your back, how are you willing to hand over power’. Here, it is, ‘now that the lawyers have broken your back, how are we willing to adjust with each other’. It demoralised those who were asking for the army to stay away from politics.
Is this a message that the army’s role in politics is here to stay and the political parties have to adjust to it?
I think the message coming out of this is that the political leadership is out of touch with reality. No one can deny that on the streets of Pakistan, people were asking Musharraf to go. There were slogans against military in politics. There was complete clarity in that movement.
There is an argument that such an understanding (between Benazir and Gen. Musharraf) is required to prevent chaos; that “undiluted democracy” will lead to all sorts of forces rushing in…
There is that thinking. But, at the end of it, the argument is that a partnership between the military and civilians has never sustained itself. So what kind of partnership are you asking for?
Nothing (that was tried before) worked. Second thing is that there are moments in history; here is a moment when people in Pakistan have categorically said they are willing to come out and sacrifice. We have never before heard this kind of resentment against the military. This is a changed Pakistan. The mood has changed. You’ve never seen the judiciary take on the executive in this manner.
Do you not believe Benazir when she says that what she is doing is for democracy; that she is stripping a military ruler of all his powers, his uniform; that this is the best transition to a full democracy?
I have no reason to disbelieve her. But I think she’s being unrealistic if she thinks she can do it. And regardless of how laudable her reasons, there is a manner of doing it.
When there have to be negotiations, it must be between politicians. It cannot be with ISI chiefs, or high ranking bureaucrats. The whole manner of the negotiations shows who is in control and who wants to be in control.
It is unrealistic to think that Musharraf would have negotiations with People’s Party for giving up power. Why would he not want to have it with the people of Pakistan? If he is sincere about giving up, he can do it on television.
Is Nawaz Sharif the only politician now who understands the mood of the people? He seems to be saying all the right things.
Politicians always say the right things. We have to test them. I believe that activists and civil society in Pakistan have a very long struggle ahead. We have to constantly remain the watchdogs.
What does Nawaz Sharif’s proposed return augur for Pakistan?
If he comes, we would all welcome it. The politicians of Pakistan have a role to play here.
But he’s not a liberal politician. He is a religious conservative. He did not particularly like a free media; his civil liberties record was poor.
Yes, Nawaz had a dreadful record of human rights. And his understanding of the issues involved is rather bleak.
So why would you welcome him?
The reason I would welcome him is that I think the political leadership needs to be here, and we can challenge a political leadership.
The very fact that democracy is acceptable to people is not because you get pure leadership but that the system has its own dynamics.
If there are free and fair elections, and anti-Americanism is going to be big factor, do you think it could end up strengthening the hands of the religious extremists?
Anti-Americanism will be a factor but I certainly do not believe that, despite what the Americans have done, people are going to stake their lives on religious extremism just because they hate the Americans. They love themselves far more. Pakistan is very different to other Muslim countries.
I don’t fear that through a ballot, you will have religious militant extremists coming in. But if you don’t have a ballot, there is far more danger of this happening.