Musharraf counts on support of powerful friends

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Muslim News" <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2002 10:07:52 +0100

Pakistani military strongman Pervez Musharraf is oozing confidence ahead of 
Tuesday's referendum to extend his presidency, not least because his rule now 
has the tacit support of powerful friends abroad. 

The armed forces chief and former commando is seeking to extend his term as 
president -- a job he took for himself in June last year -- through a popular 
vote despite strong opposition from sidelined political parties. 

His critics say the move is a flagrant breach of the 1973 constitution, an 
attempt to turn democracy on its head, a farcical waste of taxpayers money, and 
even worse, a cunning scheme to entrench the military in power after general 
elections in October. 

The legality of the referendum has been challenged in the Supreme Court by none 
other than the Supreme Court Bar Association, while all major political and 
religious parties have pledged a boycott. But there has been hardly a whisper 
of complaint from the developed democracies in Europe and the United States, 
which were outspoken critics of Musharraf's rule prior to September 11. 

Musharraf can now be confident of his position on the world stage and the debt 
he is owed for his cooperation with the war against terrorism and his risky 
crackdown on Islamic extremists launched in January. 

"No foreign country is against me. They are all with me in whatever I am 
doing," Musharraf told newspaper editors this month as he explained the need 
for the referendum. 

The country remains desperately poor, but Musharraf's deft reversal of 
Pakistan's alliance with the Taliban and his cooperation with the war on terror 
has opened up a flood of financial aid and debt relief. 

The sanctions were dropped, trade doors opened, the IMF agreed to a 
1.3-billion-dollar poverty reduction programme and Musharraf was feted in 
Washington and London as a "courageous" leader and coalition partner. 

But perhaps the most important outcome for Musharraf and his grand design for 
Pakistan was that the West finally got off his back about democracy, leaving 
him free to do it his way. 

The White House has called the referendum an "internal matter" and the US State 
Department has said only that it is up to the Supreme Court, consisting of 
judges who have sworn allegiance to the general, to decide whether Tuesday's 
vote is constitutional. 

The European Union, one of the most outspoken critics of the 1999 coup and the 
constitutional machinations that followed, has taken no public stance on the 
referendum, while the Commonwealth, which was prepared to expel Pakistan only a 
year ago, has been muted in its criticism. 

Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon said this month that the referendum 
did "not appear to be in keeping with the roadmap" for democracy which 
Musharraf announced last year, outlining a path to elections. 

"The Commonwealth would urge the application of established constitutional 
processes to decide on the election of national democratic institutions," he 
said. 

Since then, there has been a deafening silence from the international community 
while Musharraf has strutted around the country, using state resources to 
organise mass rallies while opposition party members are arrested if they try 
to protest. 

Western diplomats in the Pakistani capital said they were not so much concerned 
about whether the referendum was legal under the constitution, a document which 
has been trampled by Pakistani rulers for decades, as whether it was credible 
by local standards. 

They said a key measure of the vote's credibility would be the turnout, with 30 
percent of eligible voters considered good enough. 
Source: Agence France Presse 


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