To: Ours Senators and Congressional Representatives
We are Americans who support freedom and democracy. We are writing to share our concerns with you regarding recent events in Pakistan.
We are greatly disturbed by General Musharraf’s crackdown on civil liberties, decimation of judicial independence, muzzling of the media, indiscriminate arrests and reported torture of lawyers, human rights activists and politicians.
As Americans we cherish the values of civil liberties, an independent judiciary, freedom of speech and freedom of association, and when we see these values being trampled on in Pakistan we feel we must speak out. This is especially so since General Musharraf’s continued hold on power and the acts committed by his government are supported in no small part through lavish aid and funding provided by us, the American taxpayers.
We feel that for too long the United States has shirked its responsibility toward promoting freedom and democracy in Pakistan by expedient alliances with a string of unpopular military dictators for short term objectives, while ignoring the long term dangers of such unsavory alliances. The history of our foreign policy is replete with instances of our support for dictators of all stripes coming back to haunt us in the long run. We say that for once America should side with the people of Pakistan, not their oppressors.
We recognize that the United States has great strategic interests in ensuring the stability of Pakistan, especially regarding the specter of the government falling under the influence of radicals and militants. We wish to point out the great irony that in fact General Musharraf’s biggest supporters in the current Pakistani parliament are the very same religious parties that make no secret of their support for the radical militants. On the other hand, the people being oppressed by the General are secular-minded, liberal, tolerant, middle class professionals who would be our best bulwark against the further spread of radical religious ideology in Pakistan.
We hear that General Musharraf is a key ally in our war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, yet we would submit to you that in fact the very survival of General Musharraf in perpetual power is contingent upon the existence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. We are aware of the US Government’s unhappiness at the Pakistani government’s performance in the fight against terrorism. Yet we wonder why no one in our government sees that it is in General Musharraf’s own best interest never to wipe out the terrorists completely, because he knows once that happens there will be no reason for him to continue receiving US support to stay in power.
We support ongoing help given by the US to Pakistan, NOT to buy more F-16 fighters or line the pockets of army generals but to fund programs to rebuild civil society in Pakistan, improve the standard of living particularly in the tribal areas, facilitate education and better healthcare, preserve human rights, and restore true democracy, free media and an independent judiciary.
US involvement in Pakistan must be uncoupled from support for dictators, who we predict will end up as major liabilities and hindrances to our foreign policy goals in Pakistan.
We are presented with doomsday scenarios of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling in the hands of radical Islamists if the present military dictatorship comes to an end. These are fanciful ideas dreamed up by think tank types who live in a fantasy world. In fact quite the opposite is true. The army in Pakistan is capable of guarding the sovereignty of the country, fighting extremists, and protecting its strategic assets, if only its tasks could be refocused on purely military matters rather than having it permanently embroiled in ensuring the survival in power of an unpopular dictator.
We wish to ask you, our government and representatives, to please stop being afraid to engage with the people of Pakistan. They deserve more credit than is generally given them for their ability to elect their leaders democratically. The religious and fundamentalist parties have historically never received more than three percent of the popular vote in any free election in Pakistan. It is only under General Musharraf’s rule that they hold the second biggest share of seats in Pakistan’s parliament, because he needs them to maintain his hold on power and has systematically excluded popular political parties that represent the hopes and aspirations of the Pakistani masses.
We wish our government to deliver a clear ultimatum to the Pakistani establishment that our ongoing support for them is not open ended but is contingent upon the restoration of Pakistan’s constitution, an end to martial law, complete freedom of the media, holding of truly open and fair elections, and an end to all military dictatorships.
Above all, we wish to have the judges who bravely stood up to tyranny and dictatorship in Pakistan released and returned to their jobs, for we are all very proud of them. Notable among lawyers and judges who have been placed behind bars are Mr. Aitezaz Ahsan (Barrister and co-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan), Mr. Muneer A. Malik (President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association), Mr. Ali Ahmed Kurd (former Vice-Chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council), and Justice (Retired) Tariq Mahmood. Pakistan’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry (recent recipient of Harvard Law School’s Medal of Freedom) is still under house arrest.
We look forward to a strong, democratic and progressive Pakistan.