Pakistan: better coup next time

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It was Tuesday of last week that soldiers surrounded the residence of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and seized control of power in Islamabad, the capital. Pakistan's army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, was responsible for this latest coup d'état. It is Pakistan's fourth since its inception in 1947. And the people of Pakistan are loving it. Is there something I'm not getting here?

Musharraf appears to be a political moderate, with the intention of doing good. He is tired of the underhanded politicking that has dominated Pakistan's political system and seems determined to put an end to it. Sharif, on the other hand, was widely recognized as a power-hungry incompetent. He apparently used his political and fiscal influence in a rather generous manner in order to procure himself almost every unfair and dishonest privilege imaginable. There were very few tears shed in Pakistan at Sharif's ousting for Musharraf--and yet there should have been.

Sharif and his arbitrary exercise of power was clearly a problem for Pakistan. But what they should have done is toss the bum out of office in the next election. The next PM could have run on the platform of cleaning up Pakistani politics or the introduction of a constitutional amendment making impeachment of public officials easier.

Instead, in the name of curbing the arbitrary exercise of power, Musharraf has arbitrarily exercised power to bring himself to the fore. So let me get this straight... the way to get diminish unrighteous dominion is to exercise more of it? The way to get rid of a bad elected official is to bring in an autocrat with guns? Is anyone else confused yet?

Musharraf's cure for the Sharif problem is worse than the disease. You don't cure the ßu by injecting the patient with aids. And you don't cure the problem of an imperfect democracy by installing a military dictatorship.

Sharif, for all his myriad of shortcomings, was at least democratically elected, and fully willing to step down once his term was up. Now we have an obscure Pakistani general making vague promises of elections at some future date while he rules the country by decree and sits with his finger on the nuclear trigger. Is it any wonder that the international community is a little worried about this one?

Sharif may be a bad fellow with impure designs, but Musharraf and his army sidekicks aren't doing Pakistan any favors with this latest takeover. Perhaps most detrimental of all is that even if Musharraf makes good on his promise of fair and democratic elections, his coup leaves a permanent scar on the legitimacy of Pakistani politics. It reinforces Mao's reasoning that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun," and sets a dangerous precedent for the future. If Musharraf can seize power the moment he thinks things have gone awry, what principle is there to stop anyone else from doing the same to him or any of his successors?

Oh well, maybe Pakistan's next coup will be better. They might get a leader who didn't need a week to figure out what the plan for his newfound fiefdom would be (as Musharraf did). Unfortunately, with things in Pakistan as they are, we probably won't have to wait too long to find out.