Pakistan: A Challenge for South Asians
Friday, 9 November 2007, 10:15 am
Column: Mohan Nepali
Growing militarism is a common challenge for South Asians. Their governments, though unable to properly feed their citizens, buy US and other weapons worth billions. The international support to cope with militarism is as important as the people’s struggles at home. But the dual US foreign policy will not be very helpful to de-militarize this region. The world knows that the White House nourished General Pervez Musharraf. As the former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto writes in the New York Times of 7 November, the US Administration has given the Musharraf government an aid of over $10 billion since 2001. In the name of using the aid to destroy the Talibans and Al Quaedans, Musharraf consolidated his own military rule. Consequently, he launched another military coup through the declaration of State of Emergency on 3 November. The White House’s criticism against this declaration appears just ritual. How could General Musharraf, heavily dependent on the White House for ruling Pakistan, dare to launch this military coup without an implied consent of his bless-giver?
Neither White House-nurtured democracy nor fundamentalism-grown forces can relieve Pakistan of the existing political crisis. World realities have repeatedly proved that many undemocratic things can happen under the disguise of democracy. In this context, merely talking of or preaching democracy is not adequate. To base any democratic debate on people’s own perspectives, the question whose democracy requires much consideration.
As the political history of Pakistan proves, the Pakistanis have long been ruled by military dictators under the pretext of coping with crises. None of the dictatorships has ever reduced the level of Pakistanis’ suffering.
It is crystal clear that neither the democracy prescribed by the White House nor the one imposed by military rulers can serve the people. It has equally been clear that ruthless fundamentalists, ignoring the essence of humanity, cannot dignify people. These are some of the questions that the Pakistan’s justice-loving have to attend to. So do other South Asians.
So far the Pakistanis have tried to or are forced to depend on party individuals. But the solution does not lie in individuals. Unless the parties can re-orient themselves as per the timely requirements of overall political and socio-economic transformation, mere series of protests and negotiations will no do.
Power-mongers and authority abusers have always embezzled Pakistan. This is a story similar to that of Nepal. In this situation, it would not be wrong for the Pakistanis to seek a new political leadership with a new vision for Pakistan. A similar thing is happening in Nepal, ruled by feudals or their prescribed individuals for centuries. The Nepalis seek a new leadership with a new vision, and feudalist and status-quoist forces have been resisting the ongoing change process in covert and overt forms. When the Pakistanis make a similar effort for deeper changes in their country, resistance is a certain thing to face. In the process of cultivating a new leadership and a new vision for Pakistan, there can be no better decision-makers than the Pakistanis themselves.
A democracy founded on the universal principles of equality, fraternity and freedom is the common requirement of the majority of people, be they Pakistanis, Nepalis or others. A state run not by profit-mongering private entrepreneurs but by people themselves is a democratic state. Democracy is not a tool of exploitation or suppression. It is worthy only when it is utilized for public wellbeing. When private entrepreneurs or elites are given the final role to define, shape and implement democracy, no one can guarantee genuine democracy. In Nepal, one can see how private owners, who have often created stoppage in essential goods and services, have made the government work in their favor. Recent price hikes in petroleum products have tortured the Nepalis, having the lowest income status in the world. They have at least become clear that they cannot get relief from neither military rulers nor from phony democrats.
In reality, South Asians require a democracy that follows the principles of peaceful co-existence without having their national sovereignty humiliatingly stepped on by aggressors. A democracy that practically functions not to preserve and rejuvenate man-eat-man culture but to transform the political and socio-economic status of the majority of people is the South Asians’ common goal.
This common goal of political and socio-economic transformation in South Asia faces many barriers, and military rule is definitely one of them. Among the SAARC members, military rule is not always direct as in Pakistan. For example, Bhutan’s monarchy is a military rule combined with autocratic character. The Bhutanese security forces harshly suppressed and expelled the Bhutanese of Nepali origin because they asked for human and democratic rights. Sri Lanka has spent much of its time on war. There is a well-cultured militarism in the government. The Maldives has always been ruled by a person. The chief commander is always the same ‘evergreen’ president. Bangladesh is no exception to such a trend. Guns rule Indian states where violence is a chief method of politics. This is a form of militarism. Huge military budgets in such countries with millions of starving people do not indicate a firmer hold of democrats.
Nepal’s political forces have violated the mandate that the Nepalis gave them during the historic April uprising in 2006. Almost 10 million Nepalis, by having continuously defied the 19-day curfews, produced a common street verdict for immediately abolishing the monarchy. But the political forces did just the opposite: they declared the successors to the current monarch. Analysis shows Nepal’s political forces greatly fear the military control rooted in monarchy. Monarchy in Nepal does have military instincts. Yet, status-quoist political forces highly depend on the military mechanisms controlled by the king. This appears to be the primary reason why they have run counter to the Nepalis’ April mandate.
Thus, not only Pakistanis but all South Asians have to do two common things: combat militarism and develop a new political leadership with a new vision.