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Bush's (and America's) Tepid Response to Tyranny in Pakistan

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"Forward! Brave people! The goddess of liberty leads you on! And as the sea breaks through and destroys the barriers that would oppose its fury, so do ye overwhelm the bulwark of tyranny, and with your impetuous flood sweep it away from the land which it usurps." --Goethe


Where is the outrage from Bush and his administration toward their friend and military dictator, Gen. Musharraf, about his arrests and jailing of his political rivals in the months leading up to Pakistan's scheduled (though suspended) January elections? The administration has all but abandoned their political ringer, Benazir Bhutto, who they expected to align with their anti-democratic ally after they made a deal with the dictator to allow her return to the country she twice led.

Ordered under house arrest by Musharraf for the second time since her return (and the victim of an un addressed assassination attempt) Bhutto's only 'offense' has been her activism against Musharraf's unilateral extension of his self-actuated rule beyond the expiration of his country's parliament's five-year term.

Where is the fight against 'extremism' and 'turmoil' in Pakistan, which Gen. Musharraf is using to justify his 'emergency' decree, actually being waged? The clear evidence is that the only battle he's presently fighting is against Pakistanis who are protesting his decision to remain in power and assumed authority. Thousands of Musharraf's political opponents, including a reported 5000 supporters of Ms. Bhutto, have been arrested and jailed on Musharraf's order.

Ex-cricket player and leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf party, Imran Khan, was seized by 'students' at a protest and handed over to police where he remains in detention. The WaPo reported today that a former ambassador to the US, Abida Hussain, was among those arrested. The paper quoted Hussain in an angry message to the Bush administration as she spoke by mobile phone from where she's being jailed. "Does George Bush see that now even sports heroes, leaders of mega-parties and humble servants of the republic are behind bars?" asked Hussain.

The Post said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told them that, "The president would like to see everyone detained during this period released, and for the state of emergency to be lifted."

But, that action alone -- while certainly correct and necessary for any democratic process of free and fair elections to proceed -- wouldn't compensate for the outrageous abuse of power by Musharraf and remove the taint of his anti-democratic interference from any resulting election which he intends to oversee or participate in as a candidate. Musharraf's declaration that he intends to keep his 'emergency decree' in place while he campaigns is amazingly arrogant, even for a military dictator who obtained power through a coup. Pakistan's military dictator has purged the Supreme Court he handpicked, and has shut down Pakistan's independent media.

All avenues of legitimate dissent and all instances of organization of his political opposition have been assaulted by Musharraf's police forces and effectively stifled and blocked in their efforts to mount a democratic campaign which would remove the presidential offender from office and allow Pakistanis to have an unfettered role in his replacement. Musharraf indicated today that he would (unilaterally) choose and appoint an interim parliament which would (with the dictator still in charge) oversee the elections he plans to participate in as a candidate.

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"I am not a dictator. I want a democracy," Musharraf said in a Sky News interview Wednesday. "The day when there is no turmoil in Pakistan, I will step down," he said.

There is, obviously, no parallel disruption of our political system or our electoral process in America which can be compared to Pakistan's debacle. But, it's perfectly legitimate for Americans to expect that the military dictator the administration has tolerated for so long -- with Musharraf's repeated promises to 'take off his uniform' and allow democratic elections -- would be required to, at least, adhere to basic democratic principles which would foster the 'free and fair' elections they say they want for Pakistan.

There has been no suggestion from the administration that they intend to tie the billions in taxpayer dollars that flow to Musharraf to his adherence to basic human rights for his own countrymen. Even Japan announced that they needed to "stop and think" about the large increase of aid they had planned to provide Musharraf after they received the news of Ms. Bhutto's detention.

Imagine if, in America, Bush and Cheney decided in advance of our upcoming presidential election to unilaterally disband and replace the Supreme Court; had the power to appoint their own monitors and stewards of the election; and suspended elections until they determined dissent to their presidency had been effectively quelled.

Then, imagine if Bush and Cheney moved,without any cause, to arrest and detain all of our Democratic candidates -- while leaving the republican candidates free to move about the country and campaign. Imagine if those detentions occurred in the crucial months before voting day. Would their eventual release be a sufficient and just remedy for the administration's tyranny? Of course, not.
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But the tepid response from the Bush administration to Musharraf's tyranny in Pakistan is appalling. So what, if John Negroponte is in Pakistan talking to Musharraf; appealing to the dictator to relent in his 'emergency' power grab. Where is the outreach to the political prisoners he's jailed without any cause other than their opposition to his autocratic rule? Those are the Pakistanis the administration should be responding to with outreach and negotiations; not the petty dictator who's forfeited any right to be considered any more as a just steward of Pakistan's government, as evidenced by his open, anti-democratic assaults on his political rivals.

Where's the outrage from this administration who has postured as caretakers and defenders of democracy around the world? Where's the outrage from our presidential candidates? Where have they shown the necessary solidarity with Pakistan's (incarcerated) presidential aspirants?

Where is the outrage, America?

 

Ron Fullwood, is an activist from Columbia, Md. and the author of the book 'Power of Mischief' : Military Industry Executives are Making Bush Policy and the Country is Paying the Price

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