=> PRESIDENT Musharraf’s remarks in Brussels about th
PRESIDENT Musharraf’s remarks in Brussels about the West’s ‘obsession’ with democracy were not the first time that he uttered such sentiments in public. However, they serve as a disturbing reminder that even after almost a year of traumatic events in the country, he has made no attempt to recognise an age-old cure for the many evils inherent in the current political system. Had the situation not been so grave in Pakistan, it might have been easy to brush off the president’s comments as yet another myopic observation. Unfortunately, we are already at the brink, and the rejection of a true democratic order – yes, indeed like the West’s, with emphasis on fundamental rights and civil liberties for all, and not one that is tailored to meet the president’s vision – can only aggravate matters.
The absence of democracy has manifested itself in the introduction of draconian laws, curbs on the media, restrictions on free assembly, police brutality and the ‘disappearance’ of political and religious activists. The anger that the government’s highhandedness has generated has been witnessed in frequent demonstrations by members of civil society as well as in the large-scale rioting that took place following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. There are widespread apprehensions that the polls scheduled for next month will be manipulated. The public has shown little faith in President Musharraf’s assertion that this will not be the case. Never before has the situation in Pakistan been more conducive to the design of religious extremists and militants to gain a foothold as they are already doing in their bid to Talibanise the whole country. And yet President Musharraf is disparaging of the ‘obsession’ with democracy while, in the same breath he appeals to the West for more time (as if 60 years were not enough) “to reach what you have reached.”
Economic power may create anomalies where a strong nation is not necessarily one with foolproof democratic credentials, China being one example. But as globalisation continues and universal norms take precedence over those that are culture-specific, it is apparent that more than economic standing, it is democratic values that endow a nation with respect. It has done so in the case of the European Union which has stringent rules regarding the observance of human rights for member-countries as well as those aspiring to enter its ranks. Pakistan’s much mutilated Constitution also carries similar expressions of democratic values, stressing the ‘inviolability’ of human dignity, ‘the freedom of movement’, and the right to free speech (although the latter is not without restrictions), etc. Unfortunately, in a dispensation where one man (President Musharraf) and one institution (the army) call the shots, these and other arguments for democracy are likely to go unheeded by those at the helm who have so far shown scant respect for the rights of the common man.