Ever since the elections took place last October, Musharraf has been hobbled. He can no longer do what he pleases since he’s the one who set up the horse and cattle show which we call a govt. More than half of the parliament is dead set against him and wants him to either quit as president or army chief. So Musharraf is in a bit of a quandary, as if he does get rid of one of his uniforms then he in turn can be chucked out himself. If he throws out the current govt. then he’s going to get some really bad press everywhere, which is something he really doesn’t want.
So he’s stuck, and while he’s stuck so is the country, as he really can’t do anything at home unless he settles the political situation. Musharraf has turned down the road which most dictator’s end up following sooner or later, that of spending more time keeping themselves in power and damn the rest which can always wait till they are secure in their self importance.
These days, almost every day in the English papers there is a column bashing America and outlining various conspiracy theories. Every now and then someone attacks the Jews and outlines a Zionist conspiracy or two. Then off course we have the two in ones, who attack both. Attacks on the Musharraf govt. are a dime a dozen, along with accusations that Musharraf is a lamb being led to the slaughter by the Americans. If it were to be known that a certain journalist was on the govt. payroll he would be torn apart by his colleagues. As for the media here giving credence to conspiracy theorists, you have to keep in mind that not to many people read the English papers. Of those who do, many don’t read the columns, and just stick to the news. Those who read the columns, well they really don’t give much importance to them. In the west it seems that if a respected columnist writes about something then it really does impact those who read it. They place a lot more trust in the news, and it may be hard to believe but also the politicians. Based on reading a ton of journalists online, I think it can be said that the news industry has a sizeable impact on first world thoughts, opinions and views of the world.
In Pakistan, the populace is so jaded that they believe nothing of what an official says, whether on TV, in print or personally. I have yet to meet a single person who has taken a single word seriously of our official news network. We have a Ministry of Information who nobody has ever figured out as to what exactly goes on there besides the requisite fleet of luxury cars. It’s a well known fact that over the years a number of journalists have been on the payroll of the govt. Others have been pressured by our numerous secret services and intelligence agencies to stick with what in Russia would be called the party line. Yet others are either bribed or extorted by various politicians and other shady people. The Musharraf govt. is better than most regarding their dealings with the press, and has pretty much allowed them a free hand, despite various grumblings by Musharraf every now and then about how the press is undermining the security of the country.
Musharraf has been pro-American since day 1, while the press has been mouthing anti-Americanism for a long time now. Now the gloves are off, with the press bad mouthing Musharraf and vice versa. The next steps are going to be interesting, and I fear, far to predictable.
As regards the freedom of the press here in Pakistan, a number of people here have been quite pleasantly suprised. Our last three elected govts. would go around beating up journalists and using the ISI and the 17 other agencies to really keep them under control.
However, on the flip side, Musharaff has been devoting a lot of ISI resources to keeping the politicians under check. The entire election last year was engineered, and our current Prime Minister calls Musharraf “Boss”; and his only reason for existence is to make Mush look good. According to our constitution the PM is the head of state, with the President being the figure head with limited powers, sort of like they have in India.
It’s yet another example of what lengths poor states go to appease the top dogs. Billions of rupees were spent on the elections with the entire country at a standstill for weeks. So we had the elections so Bush and Blair could easily associate with Pakistan, but Musharraf in his cleverness has checkmated himself. Not only that, in trying to keep up with the politicians, who have decades of experience in in politicking, he has surrounded himself with the very people that that he said he would be getting rid of. Any good that he has done was before his feeble and misguided attempts to implement some warped form of democracy. This is not an obituary, but I fear that the time is near for the end of a benign dictatorship and we will soon be writing about the birth of yet another tin horn dictator.
*Update:* I sent this article to “Chowk”:http://www.chowk.com, where so far it’s had over a “hundred comments on it”:http://www.chowk.com/show_article.cgi?aid=00002474&channel=civic%20center.
*Update:* American newspapers are publishing more and more articles like this one: “Doubts about an Ally”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A63098-2003Sep11.html. The general view of Musharraf in the West seems to be extremely low. From “Niraj”:http://www.nirajweb.net/mt/niraj/archives/001883.html: Wow, today must be rag on President Musharraf day with no less then four articles– The Hindu, The Hindustan Times, The Washington Post, and the BBC— critical of both his rule and his off-again-on-again relationship with Islamic fundamentalists.