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Insisting on Elections in Pakistan is Not Enough
Originally From New America Media Thursday, November 8, 2007 : Pervez Musharraf has announced that parliamentary elections would be held before February 15, but that does not mean his critics should breathe a sigh of relief and move on. Anil Kalhan is visiting assistant professor of law at Fordham Law School in New York and a contributing writer for Dorf on Law and AsiaMedia.
NEW YORK - Most of the reactions to the imposition of martial law in Pakistan have emphasized the importance, above all else, of making sure that the elections scheduled for January stay on track. Now Pervez Musharraf has announced he will hold parliamentary elections by February 15. Will his critics now breathe a sigh of relief, celebrate the "restoration of Pakistan's progress towards democracy," and move on?
If so, then all of these Western critics will have been hoodwinked, and Musharraf will have achieved a near-complete victory. The purpose of Musharraf's extraconstitutional move to hold the constitution "in abeyance" is not to prevent elections from ever taking place, or even necessarily to delay them at all. Rather, the point of Musharraf's imposition of martial law is a more thoroughgoing "laundering" of Pakistan's civil society institutions -- including the judiciary, media, and mainstream political parties -- in order to flush out any capacity they might have to serve as independent checks on his power.
By itself, simply urging Musharraf to hold elections on schedule -- or in the case of the Bush administration, gently suggesting that Musharraf think about that possibility if he's bored and there's nothing good to watch on television -- is relatively meaningless. After all, when it comes to rigging elections, Musharraf has an enviable track record. Indeed, at least nominally, even the current, outgoing national and provincial assemblies in Pakistan themselves were "elected." And of course, strong civil society institutions would not be any less important after the election of civilian leaders.Read More