World Affairs

Muddling through democracy, war and peace

General Pervez Musharraf is now clearing hurdles on his way to be declared the president of Pakistan for the second time.

Last week, the Supreme Court he had appointed after sacking the Chief Justice and 12 judges dismissed a petition challenging his election by the outgoing parliament as president because a holder of high public office such as the army chief is not entitled to be elected president according to constitutional provisions.

The new Supreme Court dismissed objections of the lawyers of a petitioner that the court that was appointed by Musharraf has no authority to pass judgement on his appointment. The court however threatened the lawyers with charges of contempt of the Supreme Court and dismissed the petition. Six other petitions are likely to be taken up by the court but there is little doubt that they will go the same way as the one before.

Arm twisting

Meanwhile the United States which has spent as much as $ 9 billion on Musharraf since he grabbed power with a coup, is apparently twisting his arm to make him accept democratic reforms.

John Negroponte the second highest ranking diplomat of the State Department held talks with Musharraf the previous weekend and stressed that he adopt democratic reforms such as: Lift the emergency, hold elections in January, free political prisoners, hold reconciliation talks with other parties and step down as army chief.

Musharraf agreed to do the latter since he was certain of his election being approved by the Supreme Court. The date for elections — January 8 has been gazetted and on Tuesday more than 5000 lawyers, opposition politicians, human rights activists were released and reports said the remaining 2000 are also to be released.

Nawaz Sharif

Last week he flew to Saudi Arabia probably to meet Nawaz Sharif, his former prime minister whom he threw out in his coup and sent him into exile. Sharif last week had refused to have any negotiations with Musharraf. But he will be a part of a strategy that is mapped out by Washington for Pakistan to be governed with Musharraf as president and Bhutto and Sharif as political leaders supporting him. But whether this plan would work with three mutually opposed personalities with great antipathy towards one another is to be seen.

Even if the Washington drawn plan for democracy in Pakistan will work — there seems to be no other alternative; in Afghanistan their war against the Taliban is making little progress and in certain instance gives signs of being a long drawn out struggle — like in Vietnam. The European partners of NATO jointly fighting this war against terrorism are showing marked reluctance to commit further troops to Afghanistan.

In Iraq in the last year of the George W. Bush Administration, the only option appears to be to pull out with American dignity and pride intact.

Annapolis Conference

In his last year, President Bush is attempting to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue which he had more or less ignored all along.

On Tuesday he will host a Middle East Peace Conference at Annapolis in Maryland with the objective of reviving the peace process which had been frozen for seven years and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Leaders of 40 countries have been invited to this conference which will be addressed in its opening sessions by Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mohmoud Abbas.

The list of countries that will be invited for the conference had not been revealed at the time of writing this column but it is apparent that the United States is trying to enlist the help of — euphemistically called — ‘moderate’ Arab states which are ‘pro-Western.’

President Bush has provoked the anger and enraged most Muslims in the Islamic world — even among the so-called moderate Arab countries with his invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. To attempt to bring about the settlement of the Palestinian problem could be partly aimed at placating such enraged Islamists.

Palestine has been the main reason for the anti Western feelings among most Muslim countries, particularly Arab states after World War II. The Palestinians were driven out of their homelands by immigrant Jews with the active support of the Western powers. And today Israel owes its existence to the support and patronage extended to it by Western European powers and particularly to the continuing support of America. That is the prime reason for anti-Americanism in the Islamic world and even in non Islamic Third World countries.

Why Palestine?

Palestine evokes intense feelings of Muslims as no other world issue. We recall asking a Sri Lankan Muslim why they were not so concerned about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1978 where well over two million Afghans, all Muslims, were made refugees and the country devastated.

Palestine was special. It was symbolic of the Western conspiracy against Muslims and Arabs; he said that since the end of World War II, Palestine has been in the eye of all political storms that raged in the Middle East.

The American interest in attempting to resolve the problem is not solely altruistic. Iran is emerging as a Middle East power and is threatening US and European interests in this oil rich region. Iran’s nuclear programme is causing nightmares to Israel and the Western powers — whether for real or imaginary reasons. But the situation on terra firma could be of even greater concern.


Iran as is evident, is sponsoring anti American violence against US troops in Iran with the backing of the fellow Shiites in Southern Iraq bordering Iran. The Shiites constitute the largest of the sectarian forces in Iraq. Iran has also been supporting the Hezbollah, the militant extremist Arab organisation dedicated to destroy Israel. Iran also supports Hamas the Palestinian organisation also committed to destroy Israel.

Hezbollah with the support of Syria virtually controls Lebanon and during the last stand off with Israel pummelled Israel with rocket fire exposing that Israel was no longer the invincible force it was. From the south the impoverished Palestinians in Gaza are still defiant and firing their primitive Quasm rockets into Southern Israel making that region unsafe for occupation. Thus if the nexus between these Palestinian and Arab forces can to reduced or terminated it would serve the interests of American interests.


But what of the Palestinians? Will the Annapolis Conference be even the start of the renewal of the peace process? Not much hope is given because even after the Oslo Accords were agreed upon by both sides and Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn, the agreement fell through.

But Americans, European powers and Israel are not solely to blame for the pathetic plight of the Palestinians. It is the disunity among them. Right now Hamas has taken control of the Gaza strip despite Mohmoud Abbas being the president of the state of Palestine and a murderous struggle goes on daily in the streets of Gaza

President Jimmy Carter, George Bush (Snr) and Bill Clinton had been very much committed to see a settlement but failed. Can George W. Bush who put the process in the deep freezer for seven years give it new life? The coming week will give an indication?



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