Friday, March 16, 2007

The 'Good' Dictator

Whilst one dictator is continuing to stick two fingers up to the West with little in the way of punishment (so much for the Blair doctrine), another dictator that has cosied up to the West is facing a major backlash. And yet, as Mugabe is rightly reviled for his disgusting abuses of human rights, the threat to Musharraf poses a serious problem to Bush and Blair. As far as they are concerned, Musharraf is a 'good' dictator that must be supported at all costs to act as a buffer to Islamic militancy (a similar policy to that employed in South America during the Cold War). Much as the West's support of the Shah in Iran has had lasting effects, so could our support of Musharraf have long term effects in Pakistan.

Just last week, Musharraf suspended a top judge of the Supreme Court for 'abuse of office'. What this abuse was has not yet been disclosed, but many suspect that this is an attempt by Musharraf to purge the judiciary of independent voices, particularly with an election due towards the end of this year. This, in turn, has led to massive demonstrations against Musharraf by lawyers and opposition leaders who support the continued independence of the judiciary. The police acted in the manner befitting of a dictatorial state by firing tear gas and arresting numerous demonstrators, including an opposition party leader and a former national president. In Lahore, hundreds of protesters were joined by the former president Rafiq Tarar, who was subsequently arrested and removed from the scene in a police vehicle. In total, over 200 people were arrested in Lahore and more were rounded up in raids in Islamabad and neighboring Rawalpindi.

Not content with an attack on the independence of the judiciary, Musharraf has also launched an attack on the media. On Thursday, the Pakistani government banned a leading prime-time television program because of 'negative coverage' of the President. According to CNN, Kamran Khan, host of "The Kamran Kahn Show" on Geo TV (the most popular channel in Pakistan), was banned from doing his show due to its coverage of the dispute. The attack on the media continued after the demonstrations across Pakistan. After broadcasting footage of police firing rubber bullets into the crowds, Geo TV's offices were raided by the police. According to Geo's bureau chief, Hamid Mir:

"Police have attacked our office, they are breaking windows. They are beating our staff. They have used tear gas shells. Even our female staff have been hurt. They are damaging our building."

So, let's make this clear. Violent attacks on the opposition? Check. Purging the judiciary? Check. Shutting down the media? Check. And that's not to mention the fact that the judge in question, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, has already been roughed up once by the very security services that were sent to 'protect' him. Of course, you would expect the West to be quick to condemn these actions, right? This is how State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack responded:

"...President Musharraf is acting in the best interest of Pakistan and the Pakistani people."

Whoa, easy on the criticism there Sean.

The problem for the West is that Pakistan is a 'vital ally' in the 'War on Terror'. So vital, that Bush threatened to bomb them 'back to the Middle Ages' (such a charmer) if they didn't get onboard. Musharraf is now seen as a pro-Western dictator in the region and is subsequently under some very serious pressure. There is a very real danger of his regime collapsing and a 'vital ally' will be lost. Furthermore, the fact that he is being propped up by the US and UK governments only serves to inflame a region already hostile to the West. The collapse of Musharraf's dictatorship would be yet another nail in the coffin for the foreign policy of the Western powers in the 21st century.