London Telegraph. Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 05/11/2007
Dictators have three distinct lines of self-exculpation at the ready. First, the plea of contingency: we’ll restore liberty just as soon as we’ve got on top of the disorder. Second, the pretence of relativism: parliamentary democracy may be all very well for you Western colonialists, but it’s not part of our tradition here.
Third, the claim of Realpolitik: yes, all right, we’re overriding the constitution, but we’re still better than the alternative.
All three excuses are now being trotted out by Gen Pervez Musharraf, who has proclaimed a state of emergency in Pakistan, and by his apologists abroad. All three are transparently false and self-serving.
Gen Musharraf complains of the “visible ascendancy in the activities of extremists and incidents of terrorist attack”. It is true that civil order is fraying in parts of Pakistan, but this is not what has prompted President Musharraf’s second coup. Indeed, the continuation of the junta suits the jihadists, allowing them to claim to represent the majority – a claim that would be belied by free elections.
Nor will it do to argue that liberal democracy is a Western flower whose roots find no sustenance in the dry earth of the Hindu Kush. Pakistan began with the same political infrastructure as India: free courts, independent armed forces and a modern constitution.
The reason that it did not remain a democracy, as its larger neighbour did, had nothing to do with the character of the Pakistani people and everything to do with the ambitions of a handful of army officers.
But the West, too, is to blame. Because successive Pakistani regimes backed us during the Cold War, at a time when India was non-aligned, we indulged the autocrats in Islamabad on the ground that, whatever their faults, they were on our side.
Only now are there the first signs that Britain and America might deprive the General of the billions that have kept his regime afloat.
Our support for Gen Musharraf may turn out to have been self-defeating. By lining up with a dictator, we give his opponents every reason to resent us, and vindicate the constant anti-Western plaint of “double standards”. And for what?
Gen Musharraf is as threatened by the terrorists as we are, but he has been a far from perfect ally: our forces in Afghanistan constantly complain about the ease with which the Taliban can operate from the Pakistani side of the frontier.
Nor need we be frightened of the opposition: all the indications are that a free poll would return secular, democratic parties.
If, however, we continue to support Musharraf on the basis that he is the only alternative to the fundamentalists, we will eventually make that ludicrous contention come true. Once again, our Foreign Office, like the US State Department, is over-emphasising its investment in a regime that just happens to be there.
Pakistan deserves better. If generals want to go into politics, let them resign their commissions and stand for election.