Monday, August 29, 2005

On Local Elections in Pakistan, Musharraf, and Other Modern Dictators

Okay, this might be simplistic, but someone on a list I am on asked what we Pakistanis think of the local elections in Pakistan recently--and Musharraf.

Attitudes to Musharraf range from the "necessary evil" as you said about the Saudis (not being sarcastic here; just commenting) to a straight "any diversion from democracy is bad in the long term". And that tinges most reactions.

My personal take is that dictators (military or otherwise; generally people who don't want to give up power--Pakistan has had one civilian Martial Law Administrator) like this have a productive, progressive phase and then, as time passes, the exegiencies of keeping power lead to their making compromises and deals that make things, on balance, worse for things like human rights, the rule of law, and so on. I think it was on this list that someone pointed out that even Saddam had a phase that built up Iraq into an industrial power with pretty good social indicators. But the later phases lead to unhealthy distortions in the rest of society. The same would apply to what limited knowledge I have of the arc that the regimes of Anwar Sadat, and Siad Barre, for example, took. Or even elected parties in democracies that decide they don't want to let go. Take a look at what happened in Mexico when the PRI held on to power for decades. Or in India with the Congress. In those two cases, things are turning around now; but the unhealthy things that have come up are complicating things.

That's why, IMHO, a healthy democracy is better in the long term--even if right here, right now, it's rather dysfunctional. And that is what leads people like me to say that things we might see as temporary "necessary evils" like the House of Saud, the Shah of Iran, Zia, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Marcos--dare I include Saddam in the list; for the West's support of him was also based on similar logic--are NOT what people who want to support "freedom and democracy" should condone.

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