Saturday, January 05, 2008

Democracy anyone? by Louis Evan Palmer

The misleading debate over Pakistan.

Some may insist that the ideal of democracy is fixed and absolute but it is evident that the definition and understanding of it moves with the times. The understanding of a person in medieval England of what the word "democracy" means would differ substantially from that of a person in 21st century France or 25th century Canada. When other cultures and religions are thrown into the mix, any potential consensus would mutatate further.

Given the complexity of any society and its institutions, is it right or fair to have outside parties deciding whether a given country is "democratic" (or "democratic enough"), and based on that to decide to unilaterally intervene in that nation's affairs? Not only might the analysis be invalid, one country's destination, priorities & values can legitimately differ from another's - it may consciously want to evolve at a slower pace and/or in a different direction.

There's been an interventionist bent in the ongoing world debate for some time now. It was called aggression during the Nuremberg trials when it was the German Reich doing it but it received a more sympathetic hearing now that America and its cowed allies have used it to justify invading Afghanistan and Iraq. It is again being used in a cynically manipulative manner to lay down the groundwork for possible action against one of (perhaps all of) Iran, Pakistan and North Korea.

The case against Pakistan involves an argument that its democracy is fractured or non-existent and that this allows for the United States to act in self-defence - in one scenario, to secure the 60-some nuclear weapons on Pakistani soil. Somehow these are a bigger threat than the tens of thousands that the US and Russia have between themselves. Or the tons of toxic DU (depleted uranium) dust fouling Iraq and via global air currents the rest of the world.

Previously, having nuclear weapons was the way to keep the United States from attacking your country. Now, if you don't tend them to America's liking, you may trigger a surreptious invasion. Of course, in this case, any intervention is a recklessly dangerous course of action because trying to assume control of another country's main defense system is an act of war and we are talking about nuclear weapons.

Democracy in Pakistan
Given that the state of a given country's democracy is not a just cause for aggression (overt or covert), is it even accurate to say that Pakistan is falling apart?

Let us begin by looking at Rawalpindi, the former interim capital and the city where Benazir Bhutto's assassination took place. It took over 11 years, from 1959 to 1970, to build the new capital of Pakistan at Islamabad. During that time, Rawalpindi, which takes its name from an ancient village of Yogis called Rawals, served as the capital. This city of over 3 million on the Potwar Plateau also serves as the General Head Quarters for the Pakistan Army and Air Force which is a continuation of its function as the key garrison city of the British Raj.

Various pundits claim that this is a city where the Pakistan Armed Forces exert almost total control and in which nothing can happen that they do not want to happen. Following this logic, the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto at the rear gate of Liaquat Bagh Park on December 27, 2007 was permitted or facilitated by the Pakistan military. Not sure if they are presumed to have been involved fixty-six years earlier in the same park in 1951 at the front entrance, when the first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated. Also in Rawalpindi in 1979, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged at the instigation of General Zia who in turn was blown up in a airplane in August 1988.

Over its short history, Pakistan has been under military rule for more than 23 years. Arguably, if the United States wants to secure nuclear weapons, it would be just as happy with military rule as with a stable democracy. However, now-former General Musharaf is not immune from attack either - he has suffered 9 assassination attempts in the last 7 years - most of that time while his country was under military rule.

However, as violent as this summary appears, how does this type of record compare to other nations?

Democracy in the Rest of the World
In 1975 & again in 1981, the then president of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) was assassinated. In India, the three Gandhis were all assassinated. In the United States, there have been 19 assassination attempts on the president of which 4 were successful. In the 1970s alone, there were 5 assassination attempts on the US president - 2 attempts on Gerald Ford were within a couple of weeks of each other. When Charles de Gaulle was France's president there were some 30 assassination attempts on him. Should this have made any or all of these countries candidates for a foreign intervention?

The Future
In a universe where "free will" prevails (whether we believe it or not) then democracy or something like it must be the ideal governing framework. But the future may consist more of a self-governing individualistic mode of government where the community-giving infrastructure is the key design and everything flows from that. Perhaps a time when the larger weapons can be easily and quickly destroyed and where armies are useless and therefore obsolete. These pretentious debates about whether country-A has the right to invade country-B will be meaningless because there will be no country as such, no army, no reason to fight. "Democracy" will be so embedded everywhere as to be invisible - like the air we breath.

Democracy anyone?, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be,
Copyright 2007 Louis Evan Palmer lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications.


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