.................DEMOCRACY IN SOUTH ASIA
A highly reputed journalist from Pakistan - the editor of a prominent newspaper in that county - has just resigned his job and moved to the United States due to pressure from General Musharraf's government. His article appears in the WALL STREET JOURNAL at
...............FROM WALL STREET JOURNAL, USA.
....................Don't Be Fooled By
................Musharraf's Nice-Guy Pose
....................By SHAHEEN SEHBAI
GREAT FALLS, Va. -- Three weeks ago, I resigned as editor of Pakistan's most influential English daily, the News. My proprietor had directed me to apologize to the chiefs of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for my decision to publish details of a confessional statement by Omar Saeed Sheikh, the prime suspect in the abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. I was the first local journalist Danny contacted last year when he arrived in Karachi to cover Pakistan, and America's war against terror, the latest dimension of which was seen in Sunday's attack on a church in Islamabad.
Never lacking for audacity, the ISI first broke into our newsroom on Feb. 17 to detect our story on Sheikh, in which he linked the ISI directly to his involvement in last December's terrorist attacks on India's Parliament. With such embarrassing information coming from one of their own kind -- Sheikh had, after all, turned himself in for interrogation to his former ISI handler on Feb. 5, a week before Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, visited Washington -- the regime's principal information officer called me at 1 a.m. and demanded I pull the piece.
When his coercion failed, my proprietor in London was called. He tried to stop publication, but failed, and the next day the government pulled all its advertising -- accounting for over half our income -- in an effort to silence my paper completely. Then they asked the owner to sack me, as well as three other senior journalists.
I resigned rather than be part of a conspiracy to mislead Pakistan's people. Fearing for my safety -- and with the Pearl case fresh in mind -- I chose to join my family in Virginia and live to fight another day.
And fight we must. This media management is the first sign of where Gen. Musharraf's newly tactful ISI is headed. "Managing" politics and rigging October's elections are next on the agenda. There are signs that a political party is being put together to legitimize Gen. Musharraf as an all-powerful president, to stay in office well beyond any reasonable time-frame.
Games we have seen so many times are underway in Pakistan again. I'm not talking about cricket with India, but about an effort to manipulate the press, to usurp the right to fair elections, and to hide Islamists under a presentable wrap. (Only last week, Gen. Musharraf released most of the arrested Taliban activists and their fanatic leaders.)
The primary instrument of change in achieving this devil's pact is Gen. Musharraf's recasting of the ISI as a more docile institution, ostensibly purged of Islamist hard-liners and Taliban sympathizers. But buyers beware.
Over 20 years ago, another military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, created the first reign of the ISI when he empowered the agency to run a different war in Afghanistan -- the one against the Soviets. Billions of American taxpayer dollars and weapons of every imaginable type flowed through the ISI into mujahedeen hands -- while the U.S. government looked the other way as Zia built Pakistan's nuclear capacity, trained Islamic militants and inculcated radical Islam into the barracks and the schools. Rogue terrorist armies were born and no one paid attention.
In 1985, under an absolutist formula for controlling press dissension, Zia tried to patch together political legitimacy at home under farcical non-party elections, and by handpicking his parliament and prime minister. An August 1988 plane crash that killed Zia left a power vacuum filled by out-of-control intelligence outfits. The birth of America's present-day nemeses, the Taliban and al Qaeda, were -- in the eyes of the all-powerful Islamist generals -- the ISI's most important contributions to Pakistani national security after the bomb.
Another intelligence disaster now looms. Its similarities to the Zia days are remarkable. Gen. Musharraf, the military dictator of the day, is the new darling of the West fighting the new enemy in Afghanistan. Billions of American taxpayer dollars are again set to flow. A beautiful facade has been crafted for external consumption, on everything from press freedoms and elections to a corruption-free economy and an Islamist-free state. The reality is harshly different.
The ISI has been assigned the task of recruiting representatives for this effort. They are to cajole and coerce the press and politicians. Key leaders from the political parties of both former prime ministers -- Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif -- are being lined up for pre-approval. The Islamist role will be safeguarded by fundamentalist generals.
A full dress rehearsal of this methodology was carried out during the recently concluded countrywide polls for mayors and deputy mayors. Every city, big or small, had a pre-selected mayor. In Pakistan's military stronghold, Rawalpindi, ISI interference in seating a pre-approved candidate was so blatant that the non-political but highly compliant chamber of commerce president was "elected" mayor against better-known political stalwarts.
Pakistan has played crucial roles in two of the main victories of our era -- those over communism and terrorism. The first time, the West looked away while evil forces were born in our midst, destroying our culture and society. The moderate majority was silenced into submission until the world woke up on Sept. 11.
The warning signs are there again. America must invest its political and financial capital in institutions, not individuals.
The American people and their elected representatives must not look the other way again. Freedom of the press is under siege. The promised return of democracy is being systematically compromised. American aid is being used to achieve dubious objectives. And the poor people of Pakistan, in defense of whom the ISI and Gen. Musharraf have made their last stand, may once again lose whatever is left of a country that can still be great.
Mr. Sehbai is the former editor of the News, a daily newspaper in Pakistan.
.......................March 20, 2002.......................