Shed No Tears For Pakistan's Sham Democracy
Bush administration and its closest ally in the Islamic world, Saudi Arabia, are facing scathing criticism from one of the world's leading human rights watchdogs for their covert support to the Pakistani government's continued crackdown on democracy activists.
Deploring the forced transfer of Nawaz Sharif, an opposition leader and former prime minister of Pakistan, to Saudi Arabia early this week, the influential Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the continuing U.S. acceptance of political repression is not only "unwise," but "wrong" as well.
"The U.S. is not immune to the fallout when two of its closest allies conspire to deny a political opposition leader the right to return to his country," said Ali Hasan, HRW's South Asia researcher.
Last Monday, when Sharif returned to Pakistan after seven years of exile, he was forcibly returned to the Saudi city of Jeddah by Pakistani authorities shortly after landing in the country. HRW said by doing so, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the United States' two closest allies in its so-called "war on terror," have "flouted" international law.
The group describes Sharif's forcible return as a violation of international law because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile," and that "everyone has the right to return to his country."
Despite this, Sharif was held at the airport and forced onto the plane to Jeddah in the presence of Saudi intelligence officials and diplomats, a fact that has troubled many Pakistanis, who considered the process to be interference in their domestic affairs.
"What is this business of deportation?" asked Zia Mian, a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus magazine, who teaches global security at Princeton University. "If they have cases against him, they should have taken him to a court," he told IPS.
Asma Jehangir, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, expressed similar sentiments.
"This is illegal," she said in a statement regarding the Saudis' involvement. Speaking to the BBC's Urdu Service, Jehangir added in a sarcastic reference to the U.S. detention facility in Cuba: "Saudi Arabia needs to build a Guantanamo where it can keep political leaders from Muslim countries who speak out in support of democracy."
Just a few days earlier, media reports said the Saudi government had warned Sharif that he should not return to Pakistan.
On Saturday, Saudi intelligence chief Murqin bin Abdul Aziz told a news conference in Islamabad that Sharif must honour the Saudi-brokered deal. When reminded of the Supreme Court decision, the Saudi intelligence chief remarked: "Which comes first, the agreement or the Supreme Court?"
At the news conference, he also added that Saudi Arabia would "welcome" Sharif if he was "deported" by the Pakistani government. Jehangir considered this statement an "affront to Pakistan's sovereignty."
"This is the handiwork of international mafia," Jehangir said of Sharif's exile to Saudi Arabia Monday.
Sharif, who was deposed in 1999 by General Pervez Musharraf, had flown from London to Islamabad, vowing to struggle for the restoration of democracy and an end to the military rule of Musharraf, who is seeking to prolong his tenure as president and chief of army staff at the same time.
Defending its action, the Musharraf regime said Sharif should honour the terms of a deal brokered by Saudi Arabia in 2001 under which Sharif and his brother cannot return to Pakistan for another three years.
But Sharif has repeatedly denied that he agreed to such a deal. Last month, he declared his intention to return to Pakistan after the country's Supreme Court ruled that the exile agreement had no legal standing.
Observers say Sharif's reentry into Pakistani politics would have caused a great deal of trouble for General Musharraf, who is trying to strike a deal with Benazir Bhutto, another exiled opposition leader.
While Bhutto seems willing to share power with Musharraf on certain conditions, including her demand that he shed his military uniform, Sharif has taken a tough stance against military interference in the country's politics and governance.
Pakistan has been ruled by military dictators for almost half of the 60 years since it emerged as an independent state when the British left India in 1947.
Observers see Sharif's forcible transfer to Saudi Arabia as a clear indication that the Pakistani army would go to any length to preserve its interests, even if it requires violating the country's constitution and international law.
Human Rights Watch's Hasan said his organization wants Sharif to be allowed to return to Pakistan in the presence of international media and independent observers. "Anything less would make a mockery of international law," he said.
Sharif's lawyers have challenged his deportation in the Supreme Court and the country's opposition called for a day of demonstrations across Pakistan Tuesday, even though hundreds of its leaders and activists are now in jails.
Opposition parties allege that thousands of its supporters have been arrested in the days since Sharif announced his intention to return to Pakistan.
A Bush administration spokesperson shrugged off the news of Sharif's deportation Monday, saying it was a matter for the Pakistanis to work through, an indication that Washington remains optimistic about Musharraf's efforts to strike a deal with the other Pakistani leader-in-exile, Benazir Bhutto.
On Tuesday, Bhutto said Sharif's deportation does not affect her own plans to return to politics. She is reportedly close to reaching a power-sharing agreement with Musharraf, but nothing is yet final.
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Albion Monitor September
12, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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