Who killed Pakistani democracy?

The fault, dear Brutus…

Pakistanis, like many of their counterparts in the Islamic world, like to blame everyone other than themselves for the plight they find themselves in. For example, holding the United States fully responsible for a failure of democracy to take root in Pakistan.

This something is our relationship with the United States of America. It is quite clear now that protestations to the contrary, the US has little interest in spreading democracy in third world countries. It is much more comfortable dealing with dictators and there are many examples where the US has actually thwarted democracy – Iran, Congo, and Chile – or opposed it – El Salvador, Guatemala, or fought against it – Grenada. As with any other country in the world, it is more concerned about its national interest than with idealistic notions of democracy…
Democratic forces in the country keep looking towards the US for signs of support but there are none. This Republican administration in the US has put all its eggs in the Musharraf basket and laud him at every opportunity. It is unlikely to push him towards democratisation. The US support becomes a great source of strength for General Musharraf and allows him to continue ruling this country with impunity. The democrats would probably lick their wounds for many years to come. [The News/Jang]

Shafqat Mahmood does have a point here, but he totally discounts the undemocratic ethos of Pakistan’s founding fathers that was so responsible for the failure of democracy. The Muslim League was full of the landed gentry whose main reason for supporting Jinnah’s call for the creation of Pakistan was the real fear that they will lose their lives of privilege to democracy championed by the Indian National Congress. The fear of Muslims losing their culture and identity due to their minority status in independent India was only a convenient, oversimplified front. This is water under the bridge and Pakistan is a reality today. If the Pakistani people and intelligentsia are steadfastly in favour of democracy and against dictatorship – like their former counterparts in Bangladesh – then America’s preferences dont count for much. When Musharraf siezed power in the 1999 coup, almost everyone in Pakistan welcomed him as a saviour. They should have taken to the streets in protest.

America for its part must recognise that it is appreciated and admired when its actions coincide with its stated principles. Coddling dictators is expedient in the short-term, but disastrous in the long term. Coddling General Zia led to the al-Qaeda, Taliban and ultimately 9/11. The results of coddling Musharraf are yet to be known.

Related Link: Read OxBlog’s feature on Democracy in Pakistan at Winds of Change