Why the Wall Street Journal is wrong

And a good test for freedom

The Wall Street Journal has taken exception to the parading of Gen Musharraf along with the world’s other dictators. Pakistan, it argues, is a much freer place because it passes Sharanksy’s ‘town square’ test.

Our one disagreement would be Parade’s mention of Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf at number seven, just after Gadhafi. General Musharraf came to power in a military coup, overturning an elected government. But Pakistan remains a far freer place than any other country on the list — and certainly freer than Cuba, whose Fidel Castro rates merely a Parade “dishonorable mention.”

With occasional exceptions, Pakistan passes the test that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice laid out in her confirmation hearing last month: “The world should apply what Natan Sharansky calls the `town square test,’ ” she said. “If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society.” Pick up a newspaper in Karachi and you’ll read plenty of criticism of General Musharraf, who deserves to be replaced on next year’s list by Fidel, or Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. [WSJ]

Javed Hashmi, an opposition politician remains in prison because he failed the town square test. Shaheen Sehbai, a senior Pakistani journalist, had to flee the country fearing the midnight knock on his door. Rahmat Shah Afridi, publisher of the Frontier Post, went to prison for inadvertantly publishing a blasphemous letter. These are famous men. Even ordinary reporters, like one Mr Afzal Nadeem, finds himself in jail because he dared to publish an official memo exposing rather un-sinister activities of the government. What of the peasants of Okara military farms, who live under the repressive rule of the Pakistani army? If the Wall Street Journal had taken a wider view of Pakistan, it would perhaps not have been so quick to conclude that Musharraf’s Pakistan passes the ‘town square’ test.

Natan Sharansky’s test provides a quick and dirty way of assessing freedom. But freedom is much more than climbing onto soapboxes in town squares or publishing newspaper articles critical of the president. There is another, much better test available, as even Condoleezza Rice would concede — it’s called an election.

13 thoughts on “Why the Wall Street Journal is wrong”

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  2. Whoever said, “In a democracy you vote first, and then take orders. In a dictatorship, you dont waste time voting” probably did not live in a dictatorship. Democracy and freedom are simply too often taken for granted in a World that is not really as free as many of us would believe.

  3. Um, Daniel Pearl? How soon they forget … note that the town sq. test as laid out there is not restricted to the gov’t.

    I double dog dare the WSJ editorial board to walk into the Peshawar Town Square and start spouting political thoughts. How long would they last?

  4. praktike,

    Yes, I wanted to include Daniel Pearl too, especially because he was a WSJ reporter; but then, I did not do so because he was not so much expressing his opinion as he was digging for the truth.

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  6. “Yes, I wanted to include Daniel Pearl too, especially because he was a WSJ reporter; but then, I did not do so because he was not so much expressing his opinion as he was digging for the truth.”

    Good point.

  7. The situation appears to be, that if you are from a particular social class, and as long as your criticism does not touch certain aspects of Governance/Army in Pakistan, you are free to talk as much as you want.

    Kind of like, any colour so long as its black.

    Is it freedom ? Probably not, cause the darkest secrets are still forbidden from being discussed.

  8. I agree only partially with you the reason being that over the last one or two as i have been readin g pakistan’s newspapers i see a lot of criticism of Musharaf. A free election does not guarantee freedom. Remember Najam Sethi , the ditor of Friday times who was arrested for saying few things in India when Nawaj Sahrif was the prime minister. Iran is the only democratic country in the middle east which conducts a free election but still the freedom levels are low over there. Aynway freedom is no excuse for dictatorship as you said in one of your posts that development is no excuse for communist dictatorship.

  9. The WSJ espouses fine ideas most of the time particularly on free markets that includes movement of labor as well – an unpopular view in the US. On Pakistan, they long ago prostituted themselves to the Bush administration viewpoint – one of “managing” a relationship for supposed strategic reasons. The Journal (as well as adminstration policy makers) are fully aware of Pakistan failing not just the Town square test but just about every test of a liberal democracy but the holy grail here is OBL and ensuring – in their mind – further proliferation does not occur. It about as likely to be successful as saving yourself when your house is on fire by lockng yourself in the refrigerator

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