From Musharraf to Mubarak - America's Sad Choices
Arab Writers Group, Commentary, Aladdin Elaasar Posted: Nov 17, 2007
General Musharraf has imposed emergency rule on Pakistan after months of unrest. He refuses to step down as head of the military or share power with former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He has put judges and opposition leaders, who contest his authority, under house arrest. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the situation as deeply disappointing. Historically, the military in Pakistan have moved against civilian governments and took over. Musharraf himself came to power in 1999 overthrowing prime Minster Nawaz Sharif, after ten years of democratic rule.
The US will only succeed in prosecuting the long war against Islamic extremists by empowering democratic rule in the Middle East.
Pakistan’s first president was Iskandar Mirza, who in 1958 abrogated the constitution and declared martial law. A few weeks later, he was overthrown in a coup by General Ayub Khan who declared himself president. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto’s father and founder of the Pakistan People’s Party, became the new president and introduced a new constitution in 1973, reducing the presidency to a figurehead position, giving the power to the Prime Minister. Bhutto stepped down as President and became Prime Minister, symbolizing the transition. In 1978, Bhutto was toppled and executed by General Zia-ul-Haq, who declared himself president till he died in a plane crash 1988.
America faces major challenges in the Middle East in terms of the instability of many of its long assumed Arab allies. The sad story of Pakistan has an eerie resemblance to the story of Egypt and many other countries that live under military dictatorship. Egypt has been ruled by the same military institution since 1952. After toppling King Farouk, Generals Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak ruled Egypt with an iron fist. Since the assassinations of Sadat in 1981, Mubarak has ruled under the Emergency Laws using military tribunals to try political opponents and ofently handing down death sentences.
Mubarak has also cracked down on judges and journalists recently and is said to have been preparing his son Gamal to be the next president of Egypt.
If we do not struggle against this, Musharraf will take the country towards destruction, says Imran Khan, former cricket star and head of the Movement for Justice Party.
Mr. Khan was one of several leading politicians to be put under house arrest which Musharraf ordered presumably for reasons of national security. Meanwhile, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has issued an ultimatum to Musharraf to end emergency rule. She further called for a protest march. Karachi’s mayor, Javed Akhlas, said that there is a “strong threat” of another suicide bomb attack against Mrs. Bhutto, who recently survived an assassination attempt in Karachi, upon her return from exile, which killed more than 140 people.
The situation in Pakistan is a dilemma for President Bush during the fight for “global war on terror” and his promise to spread democracy and freedom. Would America pull the plug on the $1 billion that it gives to Musharraf each year in military assistance? After all, the Taliban, bin-Landen and al-Qaida are still a threat. Religious fanaticism and tribal violence is more threatening than ever in Pakistan. Musharraf has become a liability rather than an asset.
U.S. policymakers are facing the choice between supporting military dictatorships and promoting democracy. Policymakers are still haunted by the overnight fall of former allies such as Marcos, Suharto, the Shah and Sadat. Daniel Markey, who until recently served on the state department’s policy planning staff, says that delaying democracy weakens the capacity to fight extremism and sows the seeds of more extremism in the long run. He says that the US will only succeed in prosecuting the long war against Islamic extremists by empowering democratic rule in the Middle East and earning the trust of its people.
Aladdin Elaasar is an award winning journalist and author of “Silent Victims: The plight of Arabs and Muslims in Post 9/11 America.” He can be reached at omaraladin@aol. Copyright Arab Writers Group, www.ArabWritersGroup.com.
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