Indian Democracy & Pakistan’s Dictatorship

The week started with strong-voiced op-eds in the WSJ, NYT, & Chicago Tribune about Musharraf’s predicament and what the US should do about it.

New York Times says “But nobody takes General Musharraf’s democratic claims seriously anymore, except for the Bush administration, which has put itself in the embarrassing position of propping up the Muslim world’s most powerful military dictator as an essential ally in its half-baked campaign to promote democracy throughout the Muslim world. Washington needs to disentangle America, quickly, from the general’s damaging embrace.”

Chicago Tribune is down-to-earth: “Pakistan’s six-decade history as a sovereign nation has been dominated by military coups and multiple rewritings of its constitution. Democracy has been little more than a rumor based on a myth based on a fairy tale.”

Acknowledgment: I got the above stories from the excellent blog by the best-selling author of “Pakistan’s Drift Into Extremism”, Hassan Abbas.

Meanwhile, striking when the iron is getting hotter, Nawaz Sharif opens himself up with Shekhar Gupta in Walk The Talk on NDTV 24×7. Some quotes:

  • Vajpayee thought I had stabbed him in the back. He did not know I myself was stabbed in the back by Musharraf.
  • Well, our generals have been trying to scare our own people more than the enemy.
  • For the 60 years of Pakistan’s history:
  • 27 years were democracies ruled by 15 to 17 prime ministers

  • 33 years were dictatorships ruled by 3 or 4 Pakistani generals

  • Even Musharraf’s close confidants, his corps commanders and two chiefs of the armed forces, the Chief of Air Staff, and the Chief of Naval Staff, were not aware of the Kargil adventure.

Interestingly, an article on about the same show, reveals some more than what’s published online in the Indian Express site: I won’t accept any Indo-Pak deal, says Nawaz Sharif.

“Frankly, I don’t recognise Mr Musharraf as the legitimate president of Pakistan. I don’t recognise Mr Musharraf’s government as the legitimate government. He is guilty of subverting the Constitution…So if I accept this document, or a treaty that Mr Musharraf signs with India, then it amounts to giving recognition to Mr Musharraf. Or legitimising his government. So there is a principle involved. For me, it is very difficult to compromise on that principle.For a resolution of the Kashmir issue, Sharif hoped that India would be a bit more patient, wait for democracy to be installed in Pakistan again. When told that India can’t wait forever, he said, “What is the hurry? Why is India so impatient…Democracy is coming back to Pakistan, it is always good that two democracies talk to each other, rather than a democracy talking to dictatorship.”

Hmmm. I must say the hope of talking with a democratic Pakistan over Kashmir is indeed a better picture than the grim situation of talking with a communist dictatorial China over Arunachal Pradesh. However, international diplomatic relationships cannot be purely based on hope.

The answer to the question “Is Musharraf’s government in Pakistan legitimate?” is not given by India or any other foreign country. Even if the world’s superpower decides otherwise, it doesn’t win (see WSJ op-ed by Max Boot). It is an answer that can only be given by Pakistan’s people. If they choose to let him rule as a dictator, his government is ‘legitimate’ – in that it is a government recognized by majority of international countries and the UN. This also means that foreign countries can legitimately sell weapons to his government, World Bank can legitimately fund projects in Pakistan, and so on (if they choose to, of course).

If the people of Pakistan do not want Musharraf’s rule, and this leads to protests, and full-blown civil war, then the question of legitimacy arises, as it did in so many countries (Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Chile, etc.) where dictatorships were overthrown by its people. If the extent of civil war in a country is so severe as to significantly destabilize it, then it follows that other international countries cannot make any ‘legitimate’ deals with its unstable and illegitimate government. Any such deals are likely to be viewed with suspicion and scrutinized in the international community.

While there are strong voices about democracy rising in Pakistan, it is still just a beginning. Musharraf is still ensconced in power, though his days may be numbered. There is nothing illegitimate about India making any deals with Pakistan’s Musharraf government as long as he’s not ousted.