For Pakistan, this too shall pass
By Ahmed Soliman
The auditorium at George Washington University one day last year was packed with students waiting to hear what the president would have to say. The skepticism was clear on their faces, which came as no surprise. After all, they had been fed so much negative press about the man that it was assumed he couldn’t be very likeable. As the president entered the room and began speaking, however, you could see some of the students begin to open their minds a bit. And when the president concluded his proud line regarding the increase of female fighter pilots in the military during his watch, the once cynical audience of students began to applaud in satisfaction. The president of Pakistan had won them over.
Yes, the president of Pakistan - the same man who is now in the spotlight for taking an apparent step away from democracy after declaring a state of emergency in his country (prior to a court ruling on the validity of pending third term election). Of course events like this do happen from time to time at various countries throughout the world.
Although we often forget about it in this post 9/11 world, President Bush’s rise to the presidency in 2000 involved some Supreme Court intervention as well. In 2000 our country was swamped and divided with terms like hanging chads, lawsuits, losing the popular vote and winning the Electoral College. It was all such a mess, and everyone was debating everyone else. In time, however, the entire debacle passed into the pages of history. Of course there was never any violence on the streets, in part because Al Gore gave us an example of the ultimate in American behavior when he peacefully accepted the decision of the Supreme Court. Now Gore is doing quite well for himself, with an Oscar in one hand and Nobel Peace Prize in the other. As they say, time heals all wounds.
There are other examples of countries going through tense disputes centered on the question of who will rule, but we don’t hear about them much. Pakistan, however, is different. We’re focused on Pakistan because they have become such an important part of America’s war against terror. And Pakistan’s relationship with the West is not the only thing to have changed in recent years.
When Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf took office in a bloodless coup in 1999, the US was in a posture of tension with this newly nuclear-armed country, and everyone was apprehensive about a man who would take power with military might, rather than a democratic election. But since then Musharaf has made very impressive advancements forward for his people with regard to the economy, human rights, education and anti-extremist policies. Now, however, many people feel that Musharaf has taken a giant step backwards by imposing what they see as Marshal Law.
Among the critics of this move is President George Bush, who called his ally in the war on terror in the hopes that he would change his mind in the spirit of democracy (of course Bush didn’t have to worry about the Supreme Court taking away his term as President, the Republicans had appointed most of that court). After Bush’s call, Musharaf has announced that the elections will be held.
But Akram Shaheedi, of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, told me that the decision to set an election date was that of Musharaf, not Bush. Shaheedi was also quick to argue that, contrary to the portrayal in the Western media, Musharaf did not declare Marshal Law to preempt a court ruling that would invalidate his pending third term in office, but rather declared a state of emergency to combat increasing domestic terrorism. “You cannot say [the state of emergency] was to pre-empt the ruling of the high court because the judgment of the court was not out yet. There were other circumstances. Terrorism was on the rise,” said Shaheedi.
Whether or not Musharaf’s oddly timed state of emergency was really about fighting terrorism and extremists is up to interpretation. After all, Pakistan had terrorism before the state of emergency was declared, and they will likely have it again once it is lifted. But the Pakistani government doesn’t seem too concerned about Musharaf’s ability to win over his critics again.
“There are a few people who are pushing this whole demonstration thing,” said Shaheedi. “More of the people obviously are concerned with their own daily lives.”
In other words, time heals all wounds — and this too shall pass.
(Ahmed Soliman is a broadcast journalist and the author of “Born in the USA: Reflections of an Arab & Muslim-American Journalist.” Copyright Arab Writers Group, http://www.ArabWritersGroup.com).