PAKISTAN: The Referendum to Complete Pakistan’s Journey to the Dark Ages – PEOPLE’S RIGHT TO RESIST
Today, Pakistan’s military leader General Pervez Musharraf mocked the nation and the international community by holding a referendum as to whether he could remain as the Head of State for another five years. This is an absolute abuse of a referendum, as it is not a question that can be decided in this manner. It is an attempt to create a facade of democratic mandate, when in reality the General has usurped power.
In 1982, in the nearby country of Sri Lanka, then President Jayawardana similarly held a referendum to extend the life of the existing parliament for another six years in order to maintain the two-thirds majority he held in the parliament. The displacement of democracy which was the result engulfed the country in unprecendeted chaos, including civil war. Twenty years later, Sri Lanka is now trying to come out of the problems created by that ill-conceived referendum.
President Musharraf has been able to make this move because of a number of favourable factors, including:
– the Afghan situation since September 11 and the position the General has gained for himself in the regional balance of power;
– the degeneration of the India-Pakistan conflict due to the Kashmir issue and the nuclear factor;
– the failure of the deposed Pakistan democracy led by its corrupt elite.
He has turned all these factors to his advantage in order to put himself against the whole nation and its welfare. The hope for Pakistan’s democracy has been betrayed in a manner that is absolute and complete. Through this referedum, the last remnants of Pakistan’s legitemacy as a democratic nation have been lost. Pakistan now ranks alongside the anti-democratic dictatorships of Asia.
One day the dictator Musharraf may give up power, either due to natural reasons (such as old age) or due to revolt, as happened to another Asian dictator Soeharto in 1998. By then, even the badly functioning democratic institutions that exist now will be there no more – except by name. A generation of people will grow without any concept of democracy or rule of law.
The more that democracy dies, the more the Dictator will have to rely on the traditional elements of his society. Thus he will not be able to live up to his claim of suppressing fundamentalism.
In 1998 Bishop John Joseph, a prominent Catholic Bishop, committed suicide by shooting himself in front of a courthouse, protesting against the Blasphemy Laws. It was perhaps the intuitive understanding of a man committed to human values, human rights and democracy that led him to take this step. This prophetic act foretold what was to become of a nation and its people, whom he dearly loved.
Nevertheless, the West will stand by this Dictator even though they may make the usual gestures of condemning the referendum.
Who will stand by the people of Pakistan at their moment of tragedy? It is the people of goodwill around the world that will have to answer this question. The people of Pakistan have every right to resist this Dictator by peaceful means. It would be the duty of all who care for human rights and democracy to support them.