"Bush should stress that the fight against terror must not take place at the expense of democracy," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. "The United States should provide no support for the parliamentary elections in October unless Musharraf enacts genuine reforms."
Human Rights Watch urged Bush to press Musharraf, who seized power in a coup on October 12, 1999, to withdraw constitutional amendments he unilaterally imposed last month strengthening the role of the military in the government and extending his presidential term five years. Bush should also urge Musharraf to immediately rescind all restrictions on political meetings and rallies imposed after the coup. Parliamentary elections are set for October 10, mandated by the Pakistan Supreme Court. Thus far, the Bush Administration has downplayed criticism of Musharraf's actions.
Bush should also warn that future U.S. aid could be jeopardized if Musharraf continues to take actions that set back prospects for restoring civilian, constitutional rule.
Since 2001, the U.S. Congress has voted for more than $640 million in emergency economic support for Pakistan, as well as military aid and law enforcement and anti-crime assistance. The foreign aid bill for fiscal year 2003, still pending in Congress, would give another $200 million in economic support to the government, plus $50 million each for development assistance and military aid. During their meeting, Musharraf is expected to ask Bush for more aid.
"By undermining democratic institutions and restricting channels for political activity, Musharraf only helps the extremists in Pakistan," said Jendrzejczyk. "In the end, it's counter-productive."
In advance of the October elections, President Pervez Musharraf took measures calculated to ensure the military's dominance of Pakistan's democracy and a restricted role for the opposition. These include a referendum that ensured his rule for at least another five years, constitutional amendments that formalized the military's role in governance, restrictions on political party activities, and increasingly transparent support for pro-Musharraf parties.
In early April, President Musharraf announced plans to hold a nationwide referendum on a five-year extension of his presidency. The referendum was preceded by a month-long campaign by Musharraf, while a standing ban on public rallies prevented political parties from campaigning effectively against it. Official results for the referendum, held on April 30, showed a 97.5 percent vote in favor of Musharraf. Independent observers, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Pakistani journalists, found evidence of widespread fraud and coerced voting.
On August 22, 2002, Musharraf promulgated the Legal Framework Order (LFO), which included a controversial set of constitutional amendments. Taken together, the amendments strengthened the power of the presidency, formalized the role of the army in governance, and diminished the authority of elected representatives. The amendments also significantly curbed freedom of association and the freedom of individuals to stand for elected office.
The LFO restored Article 58(2)(b) of the Constitution, which had been originally introduced under the martial law regime of General Mohammad Zia-ul Haq and repealed by an act of parliament in 1997. The Article allowed the president to dissolve the National Assembly if a situation arose in which government could not be carried out "in accordance with the Constitution." Used frequently by the military to dismiss successive elected governments in Pakistan, the article formed a key element of what Musharraf termed necessary checks and balances in the country's system of government.
The amendments also created a National Security Council (NSC) that would not only serve as a consultative body on strategic matters, but would also advise on "democracy, governance and inter-provincial harmony." Although the NSC is to include elected civilian leaders, ultimate authority appeared certain to rest with the serving military officers on the Council, including Musharraf in his dual capacities as President and Army Chief of Staff, as well as the heads of the navy and air force, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The NSC will in effect be a "super-cabinet."
Other amendments in the LFO included limiting candidates for election to the National Assembly or Senate to persons who have attained a bachelor's degree. Given the country's poor educational infrastructure and sharp social and gender inequalities, the provision inevitably barred all but a small percentage of the citizenry from holding parliamentary office; more immediately, it disqualified a number of regional political leaders from standing for office in the October elections. Criminal convicts, defaulters on loans and utility bills, and absconders from court proceedings were likewise disqualified under the LGO from candidacy. The criteria appeared designed to ensure the disqualification of former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, and others.
The LFO also circumscribed the right to form or be a member of political parties based on the government's interest in maintaining "public order." Preventive detention under the Maintenance of Public Order ordinance has routinely been used in Pakistan to quell political protests, including planned demonstrations by political parties across the country during 2001 in support of the restoration of democracy. The amendment could potentially apply the same ill-defined criteria to the right to form or operate political parties, particularly where those parties have sought to mobilize public opinion against government decisions or military intervention.
The government announced in late August that the ban on political rallies, imposed shortly after the coup, would be lifted on September 1. With just over a month left before the elections, the timing of the announcement was criticized by local commentators as leaving political parties little opportunity to mount effective campaigns. The government also maintained significant restrictions on political meetings; rallies and processions on streets, roads and railway stations remained prohibited, and provincial and district administrations were given authority to determine the time and place of meetings. Political parties were required to consult with the authorities about their activities in advance.
Pakistan is clearly facing a series of difficult challenges in restoring democratic, civilian rule. The U.S. should be much more vigorous in promoting reform; Bush's meeting with Musharraf provides a key opportunity to elevate these concerns on the U.S. policy agenda.