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The Rediff Special/Josy Joseph

The plans for Pakistan's democracy

May 17, 2003

Despite its denials, Washington does seem to have a very specific roadmap for facilitating peace in the Indian subcontinent.

In the third part of an exclusive series based on official papers prepared by the American embassy in Islamabad, we look at how the United States proposes to promote democracy in Pakistan.

Though he isn't mentioned by name, America has set 2004 as the target for ending Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's right to dismiss the Cabinet and the National Assembly.

This self-given right of the president and army chief of Pakistan has led to a political standoff in the country, with the opposition parties refusing to accept it as legitimate.

In its 'mission plan' for 2004, the American embassy in Islamabad says a key area of focus is consolidation of the 'emerging democracy' in the nuclear-armed nation, where military coups and fragile democratic institutions are a cause for international concern.

This is not the first American attempt to restore democracy in Pakistan, which remained a frontline ally of the US through the Cold War and is now an ally in the war against terrorism.

The paper, prepared in 2002, says that in 2001 there were 'no elected national or provincial decision-making bodies'. The political situation was 'disorganised and confused' and there was a lack of 'political party confidence in the Federal Electoral Commission'. Political activities were 'limited by law and GOP (Government of Pakistan) practice'.

In 2002, restrictions on political activity ended and the press was 'unfettered'. There was 'higher voter turnout in the October elections; reduced incidence of voting irregularities, and full participation of political parties, including women'.

The October 2002 election was evenly contested, though dull, owing to the law barring two of the country's most charismatic leaders -- former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharief -- from contesting, says the paper.

'With the elections of October 2002, Pakistan will return to democratic rule, but will still face significant political and economic challenges,' says the mission performance plan.

In 2003, the American mission was to see that 'national and provincial assemblies' were formed in accordance with constitutional provisions. Washington would also like to see 'corruption proceedings against politicians and other prominent figures on a non-partisan basis'.

A key area of American focus while consolidating democracy in Pakistan is promoting the participation of women. In fact, just before the October 2002 election, General Musharraf had revived and increased reservations for women.

In 2004, the US would like to see Pakistan's parliament consolidate its powers and 'function without interference or dissolution from outside sources'. This requires that the government and the opposition 'reach modus vivendi', while media and political groups are allowed to criticise the government freely.

So how did Washington achieve all this? And what else is planned?

The first step was to promote last October's general election. For that, the embassy pressed the government 'for a competitive and open political process', while it worked with 'government and parties as an advocate', providing $4 million for NGO-based democratisation programmes to strengthen democracy.

As for the media, ever since Musharraf assumed power after deposing Sharief in 1999, the press in Pakistan has been under attack. The editor of The News was forced to flee the country, while several other reporters and editors, including Friday Times editor Najam Sethi, were harassed.

While stressing and advocating the 'principles of media freedom and political activity, criticising any clear violations of either', the US is providing Pakistani journalists and media organisations international exposure through exchange programmes to create awareness about the independence of the media.

As part of the efforts to strengthen democracy, there were also 'police and judicial reform projects'. Both are tools of repression in the hands of a authoritarian ruler.

In 2001, Pakistan had severely 'limited law enforcement and judicial capabilities to investigate successfully and prosecute criminals'. In 2002, 'training, equipment, and technical advice' were 'provided to national and provincial law enforcement agencies', the paper says.

In 2003, the US hopes to persuade Pakistan to carry out 'investigations and prosecutions of prominent human rights cases'. And by 2004, Pakistani 'legal codes and procedures' are to be brought 'in line with established international standards'.

The US is also using 'International Visitor and other exchange programmes to educate Pakistan's next generation of leaders on democracy and good governance'.

But the most pressing problem is not the return to democratic civilian rule, but for it to be 'viewed as legitimate by the Pakistani people'.

For this, the US embassy took 'a leading role, both publicly and privately, in encouraging a return to such rule by October 2002' and had 'specific projects -- a get-out-the-vote campaign, election monitoring, support for televised debates -- to make this a reality', says the mission plan.

Now, with the elections behind them, the Americans plan long-term 'projects to address the structural weaknesses of Pakistan's democratic institutions, including for the National Assembly, and helping it play a vigorous and positive role in governance'.

They will try to promote 'rule of law at district, provincial and national levels', encourage judicial reform, and work with the local government to strengthen its 'prosecutorial capacities'.

The paper says political stability in Pakistan 'through sustainable and effective democracy is critical to promoting economic development, regional stability'. It also recommends continuing the partnership with Islamabad for 'counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and law-enforcement cooperation'.

'Years of unstable elected governments and a military regime have scared external and domestic investors from Pakistan, and created a dearth of resources. A peaceful transition to democratically elected government will restore confidence in Pakistan as commercial and diplomatic partner,' says the paper submitted to the state department.

Part I: US charts the road to peace in J&K
Part II: Diplomacy, not force
Part IV: Containing Pakistani proliferation

The Rediff Specials

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