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U.S. should support democracy in Pakistan — not military dictators

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Posted: Friday, January 4, 2008 10:00 pm

Pakistan's 60 years of tumultuous history has shattered the dreams of its founders and expectations of the populous, who wanted a separate homeland, where they could practice their own religion and culture under a democratic system.

The speeches and writings of Mohammad Ali Jinnah (the father of the nation) before and after the creation of Pakistan are very clear and precise. He wanted a modern democratic state where human rights are respected and people of all faiths could live in harmony with each other and with the neighboring countries.

Unfortunately, he died a few months after his dream of a separate nation was realized. Soon after his death, his confidante Liaqat Ali Khan, the first prime minister, was gunned down at the same location where Ms. Benazir Bhutto (BB, as she is called by the people) was murdered on Dec. 27, 2007. Since then, the nation has been yearning for caring, charismatic, benevolent and dedicated leaders. Some had the promise but they turned out to be self-centered, egotistical, corrupt thieves.

The murder of Liaqat Ali Khan after 60 years is still shrouded in mystery. Who contracted out his killing is still unknown. Like the Kennedy assassinations, conspiracy theories abound. The official investigation report has never been published. BB's murder investigation, perhaps, may end up in the same heap of secret files with the thick layers of dust that cover most of the administrative offices of the government of Pakistan.

Pakistan was ruled by a triad of powers until 1979, when the USSR invaded Afghanistan. The politicians, from time to time, took over the government and due to their sheer incompetence and corruption lost the power to military dictators, who consider themselves to be saviors of the country. The equally corrupt bureaucrats latched onto and supported whoever was in power. The judiciary stayed subservient and did not play any role.

Since the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979, a fourth center of power emerged. These are the religious clergies, who, due to their access to the microphones in Friday sermons, have more connection with people than the politicians, military or the bureaucrats. Their mettle was tested by the Soviet-Afghan war with the military training and financial support from the United States and Saudi Arabia. They started throwing their weight around and the politicians and the military took notice and started appeasing them.

Last year, the Judiciary woke up from a deep sleep and opened up a Pandora's Box by questioning the decisions made by the ruling class. This brought the country to a crisis mode. President Musharraf tried to cling on to power by illegally firing almost all of the judges of the Supreme Court and by declaring emergency and abrogating the constitution.

BB's family, considered feudal lords in the Sindh Province, has a tragic history. BB is the fourth Bhutto to be killed. Her father Zulfiqar, a very charismatic but despotic prime minister, was hanged by a military regime of Zia ul Haq. Her brother, Shahnawaz, was poisoned in a Paris apartment. Another brother, Murtaza, was murdered in Karachi while BB was the prime minister. It is well known in Pakistan that Zardari, BB's widower, has a questionable character.

The Bhutto family has many enemies. They range from the rival feudal lords of Sindh, the leaders of political party MQM, the military regime, and some very influential leaders of the province of Punjab, the Talibans, the clergy and al-Qaida. And perhaps many more.

The Bush administration first put all their trust in the military dictator Pervez Musharraf. Since that did not pan out from the political perspective, they brokered the deal between Musharraf and BB (who were two arch-enemies) and tried to bring semblance of democracy in the country.

The two billion dollars that BB stole from the treasury of Pakistan and all the court cases were forgiven with a stroke of a pen by the military dictator, and BB triumphantly entered the country after eight years of self-exile. She was greeted by a bomb blast where many innocent civilians died.

This definitely was not a match made in heaven. It was a deal of convenience that was transparent to millions in Pakistan and around the world. It was considered a direct U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of the country. This whole approach was doomed to failure, even if BB was not killed.

Now, the brains of the think tanks must be scratching their heads of what to do next. The news reports show that emissaries are arriving from the U.S. and other countries trying to direct Mr. Pervez Musharraf.

The lesson we learned from the present and past events, is that military dictators or individual politicians cannot be relied upon. Pressuring and coercing individuals in power to make deals does not pay in the long run. The only venue open to the U.S. policy makers is to support the democratic processes in Pakistan and not bet on an individual personality.

The Pakistani people are capable of making rational choices. Whoever they choose will work with the U.S. to combat the evil forces that haunt the world today.

Taj Khan of Lodi is a consultant and retired engineering manager for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

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