Both the European Union and Human Rights Watch have criticized General Pervez Musharraf’s attempts to stifle democracy in Pakistan. His “National Security Council,” very much unlike the US version, will virtually give the Pakistani military a permanent veto over domestic policy initiatives. He is conducting elections in a very limited manner, disallowing street processions or campaigning from trains (arrests have been made in the latter regard). The husband of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has just been sentenced to seven years of hard labor for corruption. The timing of this sentence surely is intended to discredit the Bhuttos, leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party, one of the country’s two largest. Benazir herself has been forbidden to run for office and faces a sentence similar to her husband’s should she return. Members of the family of former PM Nawaz Sharif have also been disqualified from running, even they they are guilty of no crime as individuals. Musharraf says they pledged non-participation in Pakistani politics when he allowed the Sharifs to go into exile in Saudi Arabia rather than executing Nawaz, whom he overthrew in a coup in 1999. Human Rights watch called on the US to pressure Musharraf over his high-handed dismantling of what was left of Pakistani democracy. Fat chance. As long as Musharraf actively cooperates with the FBI in hunting down al-Qaida, he can do as he pleases in domestic politics from the USG point of view.
When George W. Bush talks of installing democracy in Iraq and Palestine, we have to be increasingly skeptical. Neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan, among our closest allies, really has anything like democracy, and we seem unwilling or incapable of prodding them to develop it. How likely is it the US really wants the Iraqi people to be free to vote in just any policy they like? Whatever the reason is that the US is going after Iraq, it is highly unlikely to be mainly an objection to Saddam’s dictatorial rule.