By Ali Dayan
International Herald Tribune
word in Urdu is "be-sharmi." Think of it as chutzpah, or shamelessness,
and you'll understand what President General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan
did in October in violating his pledges to step down as army chief on
In 1999, Musharraf
took power in a coup. This year, in order to push through controversial
constitutional reforms that increased his powers, Musharraf acceded
to widespread demands to step down as army chief as part of the process
of returning the country to civilian rule. Last month - the fifth anniversary
of his coup - he reneged by securing the passage of the "The President
to Hold Another Office Act." Pakistani democracy activists are
Last year, President
George W. Bush, in a widely publicized speech, admitted that the United
States had turned a blind eye as dictators and authoritarian rulers
in the Muslim world trampled on basic rights and ruled by fiat.
Bush spoke passionately
about how democracy and human rights in the Muslim world are critical
to combating terrorism. He vowed that future U.S. policy would be different.
Yet when the new
Bush doctrine met its first real test, Pakistan, the United States remained
silent. Why? The general is a friend of the United States. After Sept.
11, Musharraf immediately announced his support for the United States
against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Musharraf has successfully
convinced the United States - and other countries - that he is Pakistan's
indispensable man. Claiming that only he can save what he destroyed
- Pakistan's fragile democracy - Musharraf has essentially been given
a pass on Pakistan's nuclear proliferation, the exile and jailing of
opposition political leaders and serious human rights abuses by the
The Bush administration
has uncritically accepted Musharraf's premise that pressuring him too
much on human rights and democracy could push the country into the hands
This is a profound
misunderstanding of power and political reality in Pakistan. With or
without Musharraf, the leadership of the Pakistani military is dedicated
to self-preservation and power. It was the military that created the
Taliban and then, after Sept. 11, made a U-turn at full speed.
If Musharraf leaves
office, it will primarily be because he is viewed as an ineffective
CEO for Pakistan Army Inc. His replacement, chosen from within the ranks
of the army command, will continue to pursue a pro-U.S. policy with
equal zeal. Pakistani generals know that Islamic fundamentalists are
just as opposed to the largely secular military establishment as they
are to the United States. For Pakistan Army Inc., the United States
is the only game in town.
While the Bush administration
sees stability, we Pakistanis see a nonperforming state, structured
primarily around the preservation of the institutional interests of
The military prioritizes
the acquisition of nuclear weapons over accessible schooling, clean
drinking water, basic medical care or any meaningful reduction in the
poverty of its citizens. It is a systematic human rights abuser. Increasingly
these abuses are conducted under the umbrella of the U.S.-led "war
The Pakistani Army's
traditional policy of denying fundamental rights to the tribal belt,
encompassing Waziristan along the Afghan border, and its brutality in
conducting recent antiterrorist operations there, has created a rebellion
that shows every sign of outliving Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, the southwestern
province of Balochistan, sullenly peaceful until recently, is rapidly
moving toward an insurgency as decades of resentment against the Pakistani
military come to a head.
to preside over a host of discriminatory and dangerous laws and practices
for women. And while waxing eloquent about "real democracy,"
it was Musharraf who eviscerated the judiciary by sacking Supreme Court
judges who opposed martial law.
continues to run a pseudodemocracy put in place through elections described
as deeply flawed by independent international observers. Musharraf ratified
his own position as president through a referendum in which he was the
Javed Hashmi, president
of the opposition Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, has been
sentenced to 23 years in prison. His crime? He read a letter critical
of Musharraf to assembled journalists.
The desire of the
Bush administration for political stability in Pakistan is no excuse
for failing to pursue a proactive human rights agenda with Pakistan.
The United States has the leverage, and Pakistan has the experience
with democracy, to make it happen. No Muslim country is more able to
prove President Bush right, if only he means what he said.
(Ali Dayan Hasan
is the Pakistan researcher for Human Rights Watch.)