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Worldwide Locations

Interview with Asma Jahangir

"Who dares?", Pakistan's Independence day wallpaper, Tribute to Pakistan's Armed Forces.  (Ĵǡƕǻǹžəβ/Flickr)

"Who dares?", Pakistan's Independence day wallpaper, Tribute to Pakistan's Armed Forces. (Ĵǡƕǻǹžəβ/Flickr)

You have pointed out in a recent article in that General Pervez Musharraf has been described by leaders in Washington as a "true democrat". How would you respond to this characterization?

Well, I think that it is a dichotomy in terms, because calling a military dictator a democrat shows either that people are themselves not aware of making the distinction, or they are basically not speaking the truth. And if I were a dictator and I were called a democrat, I would be extremely embarrassed. Of course I think it is also an insult to the people he's suppressing. I feel strongly, along with civil society in Pakistan, which includes lawyers, trade unionists, and other people, that US leadership has basically belittled us, and we feel more sure now that the future US policy is to prop up tin-pot dictators.

You also said in the same article that, "In the post-9/11 era, Pakistan's civil society feels abandoned by the international community. The contradiction in American policy between its foreign policies and its attitude to civil liberties is more pronounced." Could you elaborate on this?

Certainly. When we come here to the States, or sometimes when we are even in our own country, our interaction is basically with the media, and somehow they are always trying to press me into saying something positive about military governments. And I know that every government has done something positive. I am certain that even Hitler made some good roads! But that doesn't really at all, by any means, justify a military or a repressive regime. I find that kind of pressurization really quite, if you could excuse my saying so, obscene in a way. There are other examples that I can give you. In the past, for example, there was much more of a fuss made if people were arrested in an arbitrary manner, if extrajudicial killings were taking place. Now we have seen that the government is completely unaccountable in the number of lives that they may have taken. They are equally unaccountable for the completely disproportionate use of force that they may have used in the war against terror, under the pretext of counter-terrorist missions.

General Musharraf continues to be patronized by the US government for his alleged support of their "war against terrorism". Is it not the case that Musharraf has appeased and strengthened the most conservative Islamists in Pakistan - on issues ranging from religion on passports to the blasphemy law, to say nothing of the election of the MMA in the NWFP - and yet continues to be seen here, as well as by elites in Pakistan, as the only person able to prevent an Islamic revolution in the country? How do you explain this? What exactly are the connections between the military and religious factions in Pakistan?

I think the military have played their cards very well because that is precisely what they want to show to the world: if Musharraf is not there, then the Islamists will walk in. But I firmly believe that the longer he stays, the more the possibility increases of an Islamist government of some kind taking over. We have experienced in the past that whenever there has been a transition to democracy, no matter how rocky, how fragile it has been, the Islamists have been marginalized. But there is a nexus between the military and the Islamists regardless of the rhetoric that we hear, and so the Islamists become stronger and stronger the longer the military stays in power. And it may be a very bad marriage between the Islamists and the military, but I can assure you that divorce has not taken place yet. I can give you many examples that will show you that the tension is there, but they still work in partnership. They both need each other.