A lesson in democracy from Musharraf?

PHOTO: Pervez Musharraf

I never thought I would be saying this, but a small “Thank You” to Pervez Musharraf.

“You have taken centuries in reaching wherever you have come,” Musharraf said. “Allow us time for going for the values that you have established for yourselves.”

There are some severe problems in Pakistan in regards to human rights that he could certainly do more to alleviate. But, I think that more than likely the man is walking a very fine line with the different struggling factions in his nation. Pakistan is experiencing a painful birth from a conservative, impoverished past into this modern world. We have acknowledged that the disenfranchisement of the poor young men in the burgeoning lands of South Asia and the Middle East has led to our troubles with terrorism and Musharraf, having survived multiple assassination attempts, is well aware of his tenuous hold on stability and life in his country.

Saying that, I completely agree with his statement and believe that it would behoove our (The U.S. and Europe’s) political leaders to contemplate more deeply what Musharraf is saying. In politics, there is always a focus on the short-term. Look at the American political system in which usually a year or two of the end of a political figure’s term is spent acquiring money and campaigning for re-election. It is very difficult in our modern political environment to strive to really change the future for the better – people won’t accept it unless they see immediate results. The United States is 300 years young and, as we all very well know, has gone through significant fiery struggles of identity and transition. Pakistan is a much older nation with even deeper ties to a history and identity, which I feel we cannot fully comprehend due, I believe, to the general youthfulness of our own national conscience.

Our job, in the United States as well as with our brethren in Europe, is to guide these nations who want to democratize, who want to follow in our footsteps to plurality and basic human freedoms. To help, we must put aside our own nationalistic interests. The United States was not built in a day and a modern political model in Pakistan will not be built in a day. It can be built slowly and in determined steps over the course of the next century. It is our job to lead by example, provide aid, and give philosophical guidance. For Pakistan (and other nations currently building a democratic political model), it is most important for them to feel that they own it – that they have a significant investment in it and that is it is purely Pakistani (or Iraqi, Egyptian, etc) model of democracy and can be proud to call it so.

Flickr photo from World Economic Forum 


  1. Ian

    So the basic thing I am wondering is why democracy? Do these countries really want it? or are we and the rest of the West pushing them to do it for our own interests? China has succeeded in their own way with their version of communism. I agree with the spirit of your article, but I think countries should be allowed to evolve into any form of government their people desire.

  2. Cameron

    That’s bullcrap. You’re confusing cultural relativity with moral relativity. Democracy all the way.

  3. Chris

    I agree with Ian on theoretical grounds. Each country should be able to pick and follow their own path. However, I don’t think China is a good example of success. They have a very oppressive government in spite of their economic gains.

  4. Ian

    Chris, the people of China fought for Communism during what they called the “Cultural Revolution”. While China’s government may be oppressive, you have to understand why it is so and also understand what it has come from as well as where it is going. It indeed has been very successful in that it feeds a billion people and has become a major force in almost every type of industry. Their success shouldn’t be measured by our ideals.

    And Cameron, while I think that was said semi-jokingly, its that kind of statement that is the problem with the American approach to foreign policy. That kind of talk is why people see us as imperialists.

  5. Chris

    I’m not indicting China as a whole, or downplaying their economic success because of their cultural or political failings. My point is that we can point out their cultural or political failings. And maybe there are better forms of government than republican democracy, and maybe even communist governments or autocratic governments can achieve great freedom for their “citizens.” But China’s government is not one of those.

  6. Ian

    Your use of the word “failings” is coming from your own biases and notions of how a government should behave. Also, you only seem to see the negative press China gets as it goes through its growing pains of becoming a superpower. You also seem to be ignoring our own cultural failings and China’s cultural successes. Take for instance how China treats women. When Communism came, it made women equals because they were just seen as more comrades. Or how about their government sponsored health care system, which while flawed like any system, still provides its people with free medical care. China also has an impressive college education system, which is also provided for.

    No, instead you choose to see how they treat Falun Gong or put down pro-Democracy rallies. You have to understand, the majority of Chinese people aren’t really pro-Democracy. You can talk about Taiwan’s independence, but mainlander Chinese, the wide majority of Chinese people, do not support Taiwan’s bid for independence. They generally believe that Taiwan is part of China and that the Taiwanese should chill out. You expect everyone to be progressive and liberal, but as Jordan is arguing in this post, you have to give such things time and allow a country to come into their own in their own way. I’m not defending China per se, but I think you are being a little harsh in your judgment of them and holding them up to a mirror of the Western world.

    Lets not forget what our government has done as well. Look at McCarthyism. Look at how we held all Japanese citizens in concentration camps during WWII. Look at Guantanamo. Shit, look at the Iraq War. How progressive and enlightened are we really? Homosexuals are still treated like second class citizens. I could keep going with things messed up about this country and the West in general, but so you could you.

  7. Chris

    I’m not claiming we are perfect. But our Constitution is written to allow dissent and the free flow of ideas. On many occaisions we’ve strayed from that ideal, but it’s a part of our culture and an admirable one that eventually allowed for things like the end of slavery, the public’s turn against the Vietnam and Iraq wars, the right for women to vote, etc…

    I don’t expect everyone to be liberal/progressive or whatever. What I think we should expect is that every great nation should respect the right of people to decide for themselves what they want to have available different viewpoints to inform their decisions.

  8. Ian

    OK, so it sounds like you are saying that what a government needs to do is allow dissent? If you want to talk about slavery and go that far back, I can safely call you a hypocrite. Let’s start back with slavery and the notion of dissent. Who dissented against slavery? People in the North who did not own slaves (and slaves, obviously). Who controlled the majority of votes in the Congress? The North. So who dissented against a government that they felt was not working for their interests and beliefs? The South. Oh damn, then the US government sent in the troops to put down the rebellion. While secession is obviously a little more extreme than someone protesting, the South did their fair bit of dissenting before the Civil War began and it helped them none. The end of slavery is a terrible example because it was done with only half of the country being represented in the Congress. All the dissenters weren’t present.

    McCarthyism and the Red Scare are probably the best counterexamples to what you are saying. You couldn’t be a member of the Communist party in the country unless you wanted to go to jail. Try marching in the streets for that in that day and age. Free speech and thought my ass. Free speech as long as you don’t really threaten the government. Vietnam stemmed from this nonsense, and the people really bought into the anti-communism crap. Just look at how people react today to talk about public health care: “Oh thats socialist”. Like socialism is taboo or something. Yeah we have some freedoms, but that kind of talk in itself should be enough to convince you that the government has some control over people’s thought processes. This is pretty recent too. I mean the cold war ended under Reagan.

    And as for human rights abuses, lets just leave it with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Granted, not our citizens, but dropping a bomb on hundreds of thousands of civilians is pretty abusive.

    I don’t want to keep going cause this is dumb. If your idea of serious dissent is having people be able to draw political cartoons about Bush’s big ears, fine thats great. But really, Guantanamo and all the torture stuff should tell you that even this country has limits. China is a still developing nation, but they are doing it in their own way. We got to go through slavery, women’s rights, and all that on our own, but China has to deal with other “progressive” nations telling them how to do everything. We built our nation up during the Industrial Revolution and polluted like crazy. China, because of the timing of their industrial expansion, has to listen to the rest of the world complain about their pollution. You can sit there and feel morally superior I guess, but its not like we didn’t do some pretty awful crap on our way to where we are now. Its also not like we aren’t still doing and won’t do more awful crap either.

  9. "Chris

    “the South did their fair bit of dissenting before the Civil War began and it helped them none.”
    I’m not saying it has to help their cause, but they were allowed to dissent, they just weren’t allowed to secede.

    And I agree about stuff like the Red Scare, it actually came to mind when I wrote one of my other responses to you. But be that as it may, crushing dissent is not one of our ideals or an openly touted position of our government.

    On the other side, you have China, where they setup a massive government system to block unwanted internet traffic to China. They’ve scared Google and Yahoo into pruning their search results to remove anti-government websites and pictures. Those aren’t abberations of an otherwise open government and it’s not only intensely anti-freedom but anti-intellectual as well.

    And why shouldn’t we expect other nations to learn from our mistakes? Our founders took cues from history when drafting the Constitution.

  10. Ian

    You have to notice I have never defended China’s oppression. I acknowledge it exists, but my original idea remains: Each country should be allowed to develop its own form of government free from our know-it-all-ism. Our Constitution may work fine for us, but not necessarily everyone else.

  11. Chris

    I’m not saying we should force them to do anything, but why not criticize them for their oppressive tendencies as often as possible?

  12. Ian

    How about cause no Cold War part II would be nice for our children?

  13. Chris

    As long as we keep trading so much with China, I doubt that will happen.

  14. Ian

    Except that all we do is buy from China while other markets can and will be willing to sell to us if we need it. Secondly, China is becoming a large economic power using us, but someday they may be strong enough to stand without us. Thirdly, Taiwan is a point of contention between us and China. I honestly side with China on that point. Taiwan is part of China and we have no right to interfere with their sovereignty. Imagine if Hawaii wanted to become Communist and secede from the US… how would that fly? In the current political environment, no we won’t have a Cold War with China, but I certainly don’t see it being outside the realm of possibility.

    We won’t be the only legitimate superpower forever. Our influence is already waning and my concern is how we will handle that. Will we bow out gracefully or will we go down shooting and try to maintain our current status? Guys like Cameron think we should be the world’s police, but what if we are #2 and #1 doesn’t think we should be? What if we can’t boss the world around anymore?

  15. Chris

    Imagine if Hawaii wanted to become Communist and secede from the US… how would that fly?
    I’d be fine with that, as long as a very strong majority of Hawaiians supported the idea. Something like 75%.

    And I think the last 7 years is a good indication of how we’re going to handle our decrease in influence.

  16. Ian

    “And I think the last 7 years is a good indication of how we’re going to handle our decrease in influence.”

    So invading foreign countries for no real reason and in general destroying the world’s opinion of us? Opting to act unilaterally as opposed to working through international bodies? Watching our economy slump? Why shouldn’t we worry?

    “I’d be fine with that, as long as a very strong majority of Hawaiians supported the idea. Something like 75%.”

    Yeah but here’s the thing, the government doesn’t give a damn if you are fine with it or not. The majority of the citizens of the south wanted out in the 1860s and rather than let them go, we had the war with the most casualties this country has ever seen. I think it would be the same thing again if it had to be, and I don’t find it unreasonable to expect China to do the same.

  17. Chris

    Yeah… I know the government doesn’t care. I’m just telling you what I think.