Pakistan: Musharraf the Latest Pawn in Our Political Game

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The New York Times ran a Week in Review article this week about how Pakistan’s General Musharraf figures into the power equation and how we should “handle” him. Questions of how “fragile” and “tenuous” Musharraf’s grip on power is, worries about a power vacuum if Musharraf were to leave, India and Pakistan’s political contentions and whether the US has “leverage” make it seem like Pakistan- and indeed, any other country like Afghanistan, India, and so on- is just a pawn in the Great Game of Power Politics.

Nowhere in the article is it mentioned that General Musharraf is in fact, a military dictator. Astonishingly, the article notes that analysts view the military in Pakistani as “a largely secular institution that takes seriously its role as protector of Pakistan’s identity and would not allow Islamists to become the dominant force in Pakistan.” (Really? There are Pakistani citizens who would roundly disagree.) There’s also no mention in the article of Musharraf’s human rights abuses, such as in Balochistan (which some argue is actually ethnic cleansing) under the excuse of the war on terror.

This Times piece is just one example of the general trend we see today in our mass media. Entire nations, peoples, and societies are collapsed into ideologies of “Islamists,” “US interests,” and “national security” and how they figures into power politics- where the US, reigns supreme, for now. All the while the people of these countries are taking significant actions we barely hear about. For example, did you hear about the latest brouhaha in Pakistan?

On Monday, several thousand Pakistani lawyers and the Pakistani Bar Association protested and boycotted courts throughout Pakistan in dissent over Musharraf’s decision to sack and detain Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the chief justice of the Supreme Court who has been vocal about the government’s human rights violations and undertakings. The fact that the independence of the judicial branch is challenged caused Syed Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari, the secretary of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association, to say “Today, the entire lawyer community is out protesting and giving a unanimous message that we’re against President Musharraf’s action, we condemn it.” Chaudhry is now set for a closed hearing. Human Rights Watch has condemned this, but the State Department hasn’t.

Major American newspapers and the administration speak of Pakistan and Musharraf in terms of cold geo-politics. Will Musharraf help us reach our objectives? Is Musharraf of any benefit to us? Will Pakistan help secure “US interests”? Pakistan is regarded as devoid of citizens, individuals, activists, and critics. You can say the same for basically any other country in our national conversation. So while Pakistani lawyers chant “Musharraf: killer of justice!” and “Down with Musharraf!,” the US doesn’t want to hear it. Even if they do, they’ll just ignore it and they will continue to prop up dictators who can keep a firm grip on its population so that the US can have its way. Sound familiar?

–Neha Inamdar

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