Monday, January 21, 2008

Musharraf Vows Free Elections, Geo News Back on Air

News coverage of Pakistan on Monday focused on statements made by President Pervez Musharraf as he began his four-nation European tour. The AFP news agency quoted the President, who told reporters in Brussels, "We must have fair and transparent elections [on Feb. 18th]. Whoever wins, obviously power will be handed over to them." Moreover, he emphasized that his administration would not "deny forming a government to whichever party forms a majority." According to Reuters, Musharraf also asserted that there would be no possibility of the elections being rigged.

The President also responded to concerns over human rights and democracy in Pakistan. Although he said he believed in both, he termed Western preoccupation with these issues as "obsessive." The Associated Press quoted him stating, "While we believe in democracy and human rights and civil liberties please allow us time to reach what you have reached. And you have taken centuries to reach it." According to Reuters, Musharraf also told reporters, "We have a feudal tribal environment in some of our provinces, therefore in accordance with our environment we have to adapt democracy, human rights, civil liberties."

According to news sources, Musharraf also commented on the status of media, an issue that been very contentious in Pakistan. Although he conceded the media was "restricted" during the six-week state of emergency in November, he asserted that now, "there was no limit on their freedom." As Musharraf made these statements, news agencies reported that Pakistan's private Geo Television Network was back on air today. According to a Reuters newswire Monday, "Geo was the last channel to come back on the air of several that were blocked when Musharraf imposed emergency rule on November 3..." Although the President lifted the emergency in mid-December, Geo remained blocked on cable channels. According to the Pakistani newspaper, The News, "People from various walks of life have welcomed restoration of Geo News transmissions on cable...Lahore newsmen have termed lifting of ban on Geo News a major success of the journalist community and the entire civil society ..."

Despite the development today, BBC News noted the media still faces restrictions in Pakistan. Therefore, reported BBC's Jill McGivering, Musharraf's
"need for foreign friends has probably never been greater." During his Europe trip, "He wants to convince the rest of the world that the public pledges he keeps making are genuine: that the postponed elections next month will be free and fair. That his real goal is for a smooth transition of power to the new government. And also that, if the road is rocky, he is Pakistan's best hope of stability."

An editorial in today's Daily Times noted that Musharraf, talking to six top editors in Rawalpindi, linked the current "turbulent" times to three crises facing Pakistan: (1) the crisis of the transition to democracy, (2) the crisis of the war against terrorism and extremism, and (3) the crisis of the economy if the first two cannot be contained or resolved. According to the Daily Times' editors, "The real 'crises' today have sprung from the government on President Musharraf’s watch and they are: (1) agitation for legitimate constitutional rule, including separation and autonomy of state institutions, (2) public rejection of the intervention of the army in civilian affairs and a struggle for civil-military relations under the constitution, and (3) an intractable crisis in the equation of center-province relations in the country." They added, "What is dangerous, however, is that in these crises, the crisis of fighting terrorism is not included simply because it is no longer close to the heart of the people." We already see the ramifications of the "war" that is currently being fought on the Afghan border between militants and Pakistani security forces. Denying its existence can only be problematic for the country's future.
(Picture from Reuters)


Fahad said...

1.Did he really just say that the West was obsessed with Democracy and Human Rights--- kind of like that was a bad a thing? He's right... we have to adapt it. But seriously-- obsessed? This guy has lost all grip!

2. Wow. Finally someone tells it like it is. The Daily Times editorial really does get to the core of the issue. (read it people!)

Good job K!

Anonymous said...

Such talk regarding democracy and free and fair elections makes me wonder what we Pakistanis are actually expecting from the elections. In the past 60 years, there has been nothing more than a cycle of disappointment. Our excitement for a supposed Utopian government, which people assume will flower from the upcoming elections, clouds the historical results of past democratic elected leaders. Two of these brought the country to shambles. We have been trying to repair their destruction ever since. I'm not saying I don't like the idea of a stable democracy with elections in which we fairly elect our new leader. I just don't trust any of the candidates nor do I think they are our savior from what we have now.

And this is where I will agree with Musharraf. I think it is essential to acknowledge the tribal and social contexts of this nation. How these identities coincide and collide with people's religious beliefs has created major rifts in our nation. When people think of elections, voting and democracy, they are thinking only about the educated Middle Classes, and ignoring the many who work in your houses, live on the streets, and take up arms for THEIR greater cause.

What if we vote in religious extremists, who have direct ties with the Taliban, and who will impose Shariah Law? Pakistan is strategically one of the most important countries in the world. I think our focus should be on protecting ourselves from terrorism, and indeed, fighting it. The army is our only hope we have for this. So what kind of relationship will the army and the new government have?