Musharraf, UN Photo Ops, Legitimacy and Democracy

Mexican President Vicente Fox, (C), gestures towards Musharraf, Below with Rice

By Tarique Niazi

WISCONSIN, September 15 (2005): As General Musharraf enjoys New York’s excellent weather and extra-security from September 14 to 17, the question of “democratic legitimacy” of his claim to power will foreshadow his photo-ops at the UN, a summit with the Indian Prime Minister, a hand-gliding session with President Bush, a women’s convention, and his address to American Jewish Congress.

The very fact that he is in New York brings the question of his democratic legitimacy into bold relief, and gives the lie to his claim that Pakistan has been put back on the democratic rails with a functioning “democratic government” led by a “Prime Minister.” If it is so what is he doing in New York? Why is he “standing in for” the supposed head of government that Prime Minister is? Shouldn’t it be the Prime Minister, according to the Constitution, conducting the business of government? Shouldn’t it be the Prime Minister representing the government? Will he meet the Indian President or Indian Prime Minister?

Contrary to his claims of democracy in Pakistan, he continues to hold appointive and elective offices simultaneously. He is sitting Army Chief the raw force of which he brought to bear on evicting the constitutionally and democratically elected President Rafiq Tarar on June 20, 2001. He did it for the simple reason of swapping a worn “title” for one that befit his July 14-16, 2001 summit in Agra, India, with the Indian Prime Minister AB Vajpayee.

He did not want to travel to India as “Chief Executive” — a code name for “Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA)” – so he had his handlers evacuate the “Aiwan-e-Sadr,” after its occupant refused to sign on to a “voluntary resignation.” Like John Gotti, he stood there watching the constitutional President pack and move out. As soon as President Tarar drove out of sight, he had the Chief Justice of Pakistan brought to the Aiwan-e-Sadr, who, without raising an eyebrow, swore him as “President of Pakistan.” He has since been President as well as Army Chief.

Ironically, he has zero trust in either institution. As President, he fears that the very political class he has created to populate the Quaid-i-Azam Muslim League (QML) will democratically remove him, unless he has his upholstered gun at the ready. It is his appointive office of Chief of Army Staff that lets him flash that much-needed firearm, just in case. The moment he quits the army command, it is only a matter of guess as to who will first take a swing at him – his comrades in arm or his political protégés?

Because of these contradictions, he knows well his chances in a democracy. His knowledge was further bolstered on September 9, when he was left with no “stitch of legitimacy” on, as the country’s democratic opposition in a nation-wide strike put Pakistan out of business. It was protesting Musharraf’s six-year military dictatorship and free-for-all rigging in local council elections held in August in which Returning Officers, according to The Nawa-i-Waqt’s perceptive columnist, Mr Abbas Athar, charged a million rupees a pop for rewriting Presiding Officers’ sealed results.

These Returning Officers are elite members of Musharraf’s judicial branch, who are in line to become judges of Pakistan’s Supreme Court and High Courts.

Three features of the September 9 strike, however, stood out starkly to mortify him: First, the democratic opposition, made up of liberal-conservative alliances, put up an unprecedented united front, in six years of Musharraf’s dictatorship, to give a joint strike call and make it a grand success. Second, the trading classes, since Musharraf’s coup in October 1999, have been sitting on the sidelines. The opposition, for the first time, enlisted them into challenging the military dictatorship. Allied with them were the transporters who just as enthusiastically joined in the national chorus of “Go Musharraf Go”.

The Musharraf government, according to The Nation, Pakistan’s centrist newspaper, bribed the National Transport Ittehad (NTI) with a graft of 10 million rupees to “stay on the wheel.” Those who refused to cut such a deal ended up in jail. Pakistan where privately owned transport is limited to fewer than one percent (1%) of the population, transporters’ strike can bring down any government. Aware of such a talisman-effect of the off-road transport, the government, in Karachi alone, had to hire 350 passenger vehicles and assign as many “police officers” to run those vehicles on city routes.

Third, the opposition, within five days of the strike call, brought the country to a halt – with traders staying off their businesses and transporters standing off the road. If the opposition, despite the government’s bribing and bullying to break up the strike, can have a nation-wide shut down at such a short notice, it can wreak an even bigger havoc on Musharraf’s dictatorship if it gives future strike calls a little longer timeline with a tad of more energy?

It is these concerns that are adding to Musharraf’s edginess that was on view in the wake of strike. The very next day of the strike, he had a Kangaroo court issue arrest warrants for Senator Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s husband, who is nursing in a New York hospital after an angioplasty, for not appearing in court!

As the question of democratic legitimacy hangs heavy on him, Musharraf becomes even more nervous. Having completely lost it at home, he is now flailing about to seek it overseas. He always parrots the need for polishing “Pakistan’s image abroad,” by which he means his own reinvention as a “statesman.” To help his attempts at his imagined reincarnation, he has hired a bevy of image-makers – both from Britain and the US – with the help of state coffers to get an “extreme makeover” from a third-rate dictator to a “first-rate statesman.” His British consultants handed him the nostrum of a “soft Pakistan abroad” (and “hard Pakistan at home”) that he is combining with Dr. Kissinger’s tonic of “enlightened moderation” to set out for a long journey to “statesmanship.”

His address at the United Nations’ General Assembly, his summit with the Indian Prime Minister, his grip and grin session with President Bush, his speech at a women’s convention, and his talk at the Jewish Congress are all choreographed to make him attractive to prospective overseas buyers. His symbolic packaging, however, is too threadbare to hide his substantial being to the contrary. He, for instance, has done nothing for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for which he is attending the UN General Assembly session.

On the contrary, Pakistan’s economy, on his watch, has become one to resemble that of New Orleans’s: all entertainment and tourism that was swept away, perhaps forever, with a tidal wave unleashed by Hurricane Katrina. Pakistan, like New Orleans, is awash with cash without any economy to speak of. The cash that is flowing from the war on terror is keeping him and his cronies firmly grounded, while two-thirds (65%) of Pakistan live on $2 a day!

As for his summit with the Indian Prime Minister, he brags that he and Man Mohan Singh will have the Kashmir dispute resolved before “we both are out of office!” This timeline is deceptively simple. We all know when Prime Minister Singh will leave office, but does anyone know when will Musharraf’s term be up? So, let Kashmiris be not carried away by his bravado.

His next best bet is President Bush, who is, however, on the defensive for his slow response to the recovery effort in New Orleans. What’s more, Hurricane Katrina has exposed certain weak links in homeland security, because of overseas commitment to the war on terror that is largely benefiting double-crossers such as Musharraf, while Americans are paying for it their with blood and treasure. So, he will expect some “frank conversation” when he will walk into President Bush’s chamber.

Above all, his speech at a women’s convention will have an Orwellian effect. This tribune of women’s rights is the same “man” who kept Mukhtaran Mai, a rape victim, from leaving the country for fear of bringing it “bad name.” In Dr. Shazia Khalid’s case, another rape victim, he stood by the rapist to this day.

He went so far as to refuse The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof’s entry into Pakistan for his unadorned reporting on rape victims. When, recently, his police officers raped Sonia Naz, a resident of Faisalabad, in a makeshift police lockup, the horrific details of which chilled anyone who dared read her story.

The Supreme Court, the “Prime Minister,” the “Chief Minister,” and everyone who was anyone ordered an inquiry into the accusations. It was Musharraf who kept mum (“soft image abroad;” “hard image at home”). On his watch, Pakistan has become the most unsafe place for women. Yet he has the gall to speak about “violence against women.”

“By the same token,” he will seek his “statesmanship” by addressing the American Jewish Congress in New York. Before leaving Pakistan, he told the Associated Press of Pakistan that his dialogue with American Jewry would open the door “to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”

If his past is any guide, he used dialogue with India and the war on terror to deflect attention from the growing democratic challenge to his military dictatorship. Now that the years of dialogue with the Indians and the war on terror are losing world attention, he is in need of another “attention grabber” that his address to American Jewish Congress is hoped to become. Remember, Musharraf is neither pro-West, nor pro-Islam, nor pro-Pakistan. He is just pro-Musharraf!

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