Blame America, not Musharraf
Ever since last Saturday, when Gen Pervez Musharraf declared a state of Emergency in Pakistan, the world appears to have woken up to the absence of democracy in that benighted country. The European Union, which ardently believes that its primary responsibility is to promote the European way of life, such as it is, has been in the forefront of expressing distress and demanding that democracy be restored in the ‘Land of the Pure’. Reluctant to be seen as not pushing its totally discredited — and thoroughly impractical — democracy agenda, the Bush Administration has also been growling at Gen Musharraf. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took time off from hectic negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to issue a stern message: The General must discard his uniform and get back to the task of holding elections to the National Assembly and the Provincial Assemblies. President George W Bush, not given to eloquence, has issued a similar statement. Other lesser Presidents, Prime Ministers and self-appointed guardians of freedom have added their tuppence worth views on how to save Pakistan from dictatorship and ensure constitutional rule.
But the flood of reactions has apparently had little effect on the man in the eye of the storm. Gen Musharraf remains undeterred, or at least appears to be unruffled. Pakistan’s image has never ever been worse than what it is today; Newsweek may have suddenly discovered that it is the “most dangerous country” in the world, but we need not be influenced by such realisation, not least because American media is as fickle as those who manage American affairs. If it suits Washington, American media will see nothing but virtue in the devil and mock at those who dare question its ‘wisdom’. When an individual is no longer seen as serving American interest, he or she is denounced in an inquisitorial manner. Hence, The Washington Post and The New York Times, which would routinely trash India’s evidence of Pakistani perfidy in promoting cross-border terrorism much after 9/11 had happened simply because Gen Musharraf was America’s blue-eyed boy, have now begun to berate him for not keeping the many promises he had made to his masters in the White House, the State Department and to the Pentagon. In its usual sly manner, American media has chosen to gloss over the fact that the situation which prevails in Pakistan today is really a reflection of the abysmal failure of US policy which has favoured the Army over the political class in that country ever since its wretched birth 60 years ago.
If elected representatives of the people have ruled Pakistan for less than two decades of its existence, it is primarily because the US, looking for a strategic perch in South Asia, has actively promoted military rulers who would be loyal and not question American intentions. Gen Ayub Khan would not have come to power in October 1958 if the US had not decided to deny Pakistan an elected Government simply because it believed — perhaps with good reason — politicians would not meekly agree to do Washington’s bidding. Gen Ayub Khan, trained at Sandhurst and with a pronounced preference for the good things of life that are frowned upon by Islam, was a perfect ally for Governments on both sides of the Atlantic. The American media feted him, even when he pompously declared, “Democracy cannot work in a hot climate. To have democracy, we must have a cold climate like Britain.” The New York Times thought he was talking about placing Pakistan on the road to democracy! Strangely, American media, like the American Government, did not bother about Gen Ayub Khan’s dictatorial regime — the Pakistani Press was muzzled, dissidents were thrown into jail and tortured (Abu Ghraib came much later) and bogus elections were held to create the illusion of civilian rule.
When Gen Yahya Khan seized power, he had the full backing of the US which by then had decided that Gen Ayub Khan was a charlatan who could not deliver on his promises. Eager to please his masters, Gen Yahya Khan held elections in January 1970 and then decided not to hand over power to the Awami League which had won a clear majority. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called for a liberation struggle and Bangladesh was born, but not before Gen Yahya Khan’s troops had indulged in every possible atrocity, including massacre and mass rape. Legend has it that during those terrible days when the world wept over the plight of East Pakistanis, Gen Yahya Khan was closeted with his favourite harlot, known in Pakistani garrisons as ‘General Rani’; one evening, he was seen dancing on the streets of Peshawar, minus his uniform and innerwear, with that woman in his arms.
And what was Washington’s response to Gen Yahya Khan’s outrageous campaign to bludgeon East Pakistan into submission? The US refused to acknowledge the atrocities, snubbed India for seeking to influence world opinion and, in a grand show of solidarity with their favourite Pakistani dictator, sent the Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal. Funnily enough, the man who was then crafting American policy, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, would now want us to believe that his heart beats for India!
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto provided an interlude but his corrupt Government was so hated by the masses that there were celebrations when Gen Zia-ul Haq hanged him in 1979, with the Supreme Court acting as an accomplice, after seizing power in 1977. Gen Zia, like the other two Generals who had ruled Pakistan before him, was also blessed by the US which looked on admiringly as he went about demolishing the little that was left of democratic institutions and politics in Pakistan with the zeal of a bigot. He handed over the Ministries of Information and Education to the Jamat-e-Islami, introduced Islamic rule and made public flogging into popular entertainment. The Americans, including the American media, loved him because he was a “valuable ally” in the US-financed and armed jihad against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Gen Zia was to later die when the plane in which he was flying blew up. The death of US Ambassador Arnold Raphael in that ‘accident’ was collateral damage.
Gen Musharraf too is America’s protege. He is in power because the US wants him to rule Pakistan. He has the added task of cleaning up the mess which is largely America’s doing. If the US is hated in Pakistan today, the reasons are not unknown to those who are now chanting the democracy mantra in Washington.
November 11, 2007.
To get an idea of the current state of affairs in Pakistan, read Tariq Ali's scintillating article, 'Pakistan at Sixty' in the London Review of Books.