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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Defending Dictatorship: Another View on Pakistan - S Abbas Raza

A military dictatorship is a military dictatorship, and a democracy is a democracy. And the latter is always automatically better than the former. It is safer to agree with this statement and to look at every particular complex political situation through the lens of this cliché than to risk having one's liberal-democratic credentials questioned. But as a friend of mine once remarked, "All arguments for democracy in Pakistan are theoretical. For dictatorships, the greatest argument is the actual experience of Pakistani democracies." Very similarly, another friend recently commented that "There are of course no theoretical arguments for a dictatorship, only practical ones." In the case of Pakistan, the last two civilian democratic governments were sham democracies, and while I by no means support everything Pervez Musharraf has done, especially recently, there are various things for which his government deserves praise. Moreover, while George W. Bush may have gotten almost everything else wrong, his Pakistan policy has been basically sound.

Whenever Musharraf's name comes up in the Western media, it is inevitably followed by an appositive whisper like "…who took power in a military coup in 1999." It is never mentioned that the coup was thrust upon him by the greatest kleptocrat in Pakistan's history, and then serving Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who tried to kill Musharraf by refusing to allow his plane to land in Karachi when Musharraf was returning from an official trip to Sri Lanka as Pakistan's military chief. (Sharif wanted to promote and appoint one of his lackeys as the chief of the army, bypassing many more-senior officers, and Musharraf's term was not yet up.) With over 200 civilians on board the commercial PIA jumbo flight, and with little fuel to spare, Musharraf himself entered the cockpit and radioed down to the army corps commander in Karachi. He ordered that the airport be secured, that the fire trucks preventing the plane from landing be immediately removed from the runway, and that the Prime Minister be arrested. The plane landed with seven minutes of fuel to spare. (All this information can be checked against the testimony of the crew and transcripts of the air traffic communications which were used as evidence in Nawaz Sharif's subsequent trial.)

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