Mar 13, 2009

Democracy is the only option

By Kuldip Nayar

Like Nawaz Sharif, he had asked policemen not to obey orders he considered illegal and unconstitutional. Mrs Indira Gandhi then imposed the emergency, gagged the press and detained more than 100,000 people without trial. Two years later, when elections were held, she was routed. Nawaz Sharif is, however, talking about the 1971 situation when East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, seceded from Pakistan. The situation is, indeed, sombre especially in view of the long march.
However, this has not curbed an ebullient Gen Pervez Musharraf who has been stirring up jingoistic feelings in favour of the Pakistan Army and the ISI. His display horrified the intelligentsia at a conclave in New Delhi recently. His sentiments come at a time when some vested interests in Pakistan are proposing that the army take over. People cannot be happy at this since they have tasted democratic rule after nine long years.
True, the political parties have not acquitted themselves well. They are fighting amongst themselves. However, this is better than military rule that may quieten things a bit but would brush all problems under the carpet rather than sort them out. No doubt, the initial effort by political parties is shoddy and features opportunism and the misuse of power, but this is better than army rule. The consensus reached by the elected representatives would be democratic, a product of give-and-take, not a diktat.
Within a year of a democratic government’s return in Pakistan, the mess that the parties and their leaders have created has turned distressing. They do not seem to have learnt any lesson from their mistakes. What they lack is a democratic temperament. Still if the military is to bring ‘order’ it would be the same exercise which Pakistan has gone over many a time before.
In a democratic polity, members of the assemblies are expected to govern within the precincts of the constitution. They are the custodians of power. They do not have guns for defence but they do have the consent of the people behind them. What the world expects from Pakistan is that all parties, however inimical towards one another, would dissolve differences when the democratic structure is in danger.
It is the duty of rulers to listen to the demand of the marchers. But it is equally important that the protest does not take the shape of a rebellion. If necessary, the country can go back to the electorate for a fresh verdict. In no case should the army become the arbiter.
Meanwhile, Washington has been cajoling, influencing and forcing Islamabad for the last 50 years to adopt a particular policy. It has been an indirect rule on its part. America has always supported dictators and martial law administrators because it feels comfortable dealing with them, instead of with parliaments.
However, Pakistanis know this time where their interests lie. Why should they allow America to impose its will on them? If ever the story of Pakistan’s troubles is written, Washington’s support to the perpetrators of coup d’├ętats would figure most prominently.
Washington’s proposal to contact the ‘moderate’ Taliban means it wants to buy peace. The fight is against the ideology behind fundamentalism. Both moderate and extremist Taliban elements are stirred by the same feeling. There is no basic difference between the two. The ‘moderate’ Taliban would be allowed to gain in strength which they may well use to expand their area of influence. The Taliban, moderate or extremist, are terrorists and they have to be eliminated.
Despite New Delhi’s allegations that Islamabad is ‘not serious’ about curbing terrorism, there is no option other than concerted action by all South Asian countries. The Taliban’s gain in Pakistan is a loss for the entire region, in fact, for the world. The sooner America, which has shown a piecemeal approach, realises this the better it will be for this part of the world.
How out of tune Musharraf, who has widely been perceived as a stooge of America, is when he indicates that he is available or that he could be an umpire between India and Pakistan. What can be done to convince him that he is mainly responsible for the bad blood between India and Pakistan? After all, he is said to be among those who encouraged militant leaders to send infiltrators into Kashmir.
When Atal Behari Vajpayee undertook a bus journey to Lahore, Musharraf was one of the service chiefs who refused to salute the Indian prime minister in an exhibition of anger over the efforts at conciliation.
When the two sides had been close to a solution over Kashmir through back channels, Gen Musharraf initiated a mini war in Kargil. The then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif apparently came to know about it only when Vajpayee telephoned him from Delhi. There was a considerably large death toll on both sides. Pakistan would have lost many more people if Nawaz Sharif had not rescued Gen Musharraf by flying to the US where then President Bill Clinton used his
good offices to persuade India to accept an end to hostilities to allow the Pakistani soldiers to withdraw.
Musharraf’s assertion that he helped to craft a Kashmir solution that if applied would make the borders between the Valley and Azad Kashmir ‘irrelevant’ is only a claim. Earlier, his foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri had made a similar assertion during a visit to India. But, according to sources at New Delhi, the ‘solution’ has yet to cross some hurdles in order to be acceptable to India.
They say that there is no question of constituting a joint control mechanism in the proposed arrangement on Kashmir. At this time, terrorism should have the full attention of both India and Pakistan, and not Kashmir on which they have reached a level of basic understanding.

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