Musharraf’s sinking democratic credentials

MOHAMMAD MALIK/AFP/Getty Images Sameer Lalwani argued back in September that “meaningful democracy will not emerge in Pakistan anytime soon, nor will the military abandon its grip on government.” Accordingly, “Rather than embracing false harbingers of democracy, the United States should deepen its ties with the Pakistani military through further commitments in funding” and “do more ...

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598309_071106_pakistan2_05.jpg

MOHAMMAD MALIK/AFP/Getty Images

Sameer Lalwani argued back in September that "meaningful democracy will not emerge in Pakistan anytime soon, nor will the military abandon its grip on government." Accordingly, "Rather than embracing false harbingers of democracy, the United States should deepen its ties with the Pakistani military through further commitments in funding" and "do more to channel visible development aid and encourage the growth of real democratic institutions instead of feudal patronage networks like those of Bhutto and Sharif."

In the Financial Times, however, columnist Gideon Rachman offers a starkly different view of Musharraf:

MOHAMMAD MALIK/AFP/Getty Images

Sameer Lalwani argued back in September that “meaningful democracy will not emerge in Pakistan anytime soon, nor will the military abandon its grip on government.” Accordingly, “Rather than embracing false harbingers of democracy, the United States should deepen its ties with the Pakistani military through further commitments in funding” and “do more to channel visible development aid and encourage the growth of real democratic institutions instead of feudal patronage networks like those of Bhutto and Sharif.”

In the Financial Times, however, columnist Gideon Rachman offers a starkly different view of Musharraf:

Gen Musharraf would like the west to believe that the only alternatives to his continued rule are anarchy or Islamism. But the people he is locking up in this latest crackdown are not the proverbial “mad mullahs”. They are lawyers, journalists and human rights activists – the backbone of the civil society that is needed if Pakistan is ever to make the transition to a sustainable democracy.

Would these people eventually be swept aside by militant Islamists – making westerners and middle-class Pakistanis swiftly yearn for a return of military rule? Again, the evidence for this is quite weak. Islamist parties have never captured above 11 per cent of the vote in Pakistan. The polls suggest that popular sympathy for terrorism is actually falling, as Pakistanis experience suicide bombing on their own soil. In 2004, 41 per cent of Pakistanis told the Pew pollsters that suicide bombing was “sometimes” justified. This year that figure is down to 9 per cent.

Lalwani is probably on safe ground in pointing out that “meaningful democracy” will not emerge in Pakistan any time soon. But it is Musharraf and his military supporters who consistently prevent this from happening, either through what Human Rights Watch called “deeply flawed” elections or, most recently, by imposing martial law. How on Earth are real democratic institutions supposed to grow when the Pakistani military keeps locking up the democrats?

Prerna Mankad is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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