Archive for the ‘democracy’ Category

Myanmar: Long sentences for democracy advocates

November 11, 2008

Courts in military-ruled Myanmar delivered a devastating blow Tuesday to the nation’s pro-democracy movement, sentencing two dozen activists to harsh prison terms that will keep them behind bars long past a 2010 election.

Associated Press

Fourteen members of the Generation 88 Students group were sentenced to prison terms of 65 years each, and a labor activist, Su Su Nway, was sentenced to 12 1/2 years. Ten people allied with Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy got jail terms of eight to 24 years.

Many of the activists were involved in protests last year that led to huge pro-democracy demonstrations that the army put down by force. According to U.N. estimates, at least 31 people were killed and thousands of demonstrators were detained. Many fled the country or went underground.

Most of the sentences were handed down in closed-court sessions. The lengths of the terms suggest the junta will pay little heed to calls from the U.N. and many Western nations to make its self-styled transition to democracy more fair and inclusive.

Amnesty International said the court actions were “a powerful reminder that Myanmar’s military government is ignoring calls by the international community to clean up its human rights record.”

“This sentencing sends a clear signal that it will not tolerate views contrary to its own,” the group said in a statement.

Amnesty and other international human rights groups say the junta holds more than 2,100 political prisoners, up sharply from nearly 1,200 in June 2007 — before the pro-democracy demonstrations.

The prisoners include Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest — as she has been on and off since 1989.

The European Union said Monday that the multiparty elections scheduled for 2010 will be seen as illegitimate unless the junta frees all political prisoners. Suu Kyi’s party won the most seats in a 1990 election, but the military refused to let it take power.

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Desmond Tutu: Obama For America’s global image

November 9, 2008

On the night of America’s election last Tuesday, an Ethiopian American immigrant told Peace and Freedom that Barack Obama had more a global impact on the image of America than any other man ever…


By Desmond Tutu
The Washington Post
Sunday, November 9, 2008; Page B01

CAPE TOWN I am rubbing my eyes in disbelief and wonder. It can’t be true that Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan, is the next president of the United States.

But it is true, exhilaratingly true. An unbelievable turnaround. I want to jump and dance and shout, as I did after voting for the first time in my native South Africa on April 27, 1994.

We owe our glorious victory over the awfulness of apartheid in South Africa in large part to the support we received from the international community, including the United States, and we will always be deeply grateful. But for those of us who have looked to America for inspiration as we struggled for democracy and human rights, these past seven years have been lean ones.

A few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, we had our first shock, hearing your president respond not with the statesmanlike demeanor we had come to expect from a U.S. head of state but like a Western gunslinger. Later, it seemed that much of American society was following his lead.

When war began, first in Afghanistan and not long after in Iraq, we read allegations of prisoner abuse at Bagram air base in Afghanistan and of rendition to countries notorious for practicing torture. We saw the horrific images from Abu Ghraib and learned of gruesome acts performed in the name of gathering information. Sometimes the torture itself was couched in the government’s euphemisms — calling waterboarding an “interrogation technique.”

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Russia says Taiwan’s U.N. plebiscite is “escapade”

March 20, 2008

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Wednesday threw its weight behind its close ally China, saying Taiwan‘s plan to hold a referendum on whether to seek United Nations membership was a “political escapade.”

Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive party presidential candidate ...
Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive party presidential candidate Frank Hsieh lights a flame symbolizing human rights and freedom during a vigil in support of Tibet in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, March 19, 2008. China’s crackdown on protest in the Himalayan territory of Tibet has become an issue for candidates in Saturday’s presidential election on the island of Taiwan. China controls Tibet and also hopes to eventually rule democratic Taiwan – just 160 kilometers (100 miles) off the southern Chinese coast.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)

Taiwan, which China claims as its own, is due to hold the plebiscite alongside a presidential election on March 22, ignoring warnings from countries such as the United States, France and Japan as well as China.

“We have been watching with unease Taiwan’s preparations to hold a referendum on joining the U.N. under the name of ‘Taiwan’,” Russia’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov said in remarks posted on the ministry’s site (

“We are deeply convinced that this political escapade, persistently promoted by the authorities of the island, is an explosive of huge destructive potential.”

“It … already starts having a destabilizing impact on the Asia-Pacific Region and threatens the interests of peace and development.”

If Taiwan’s motion is passed, it would be perceived by Beijing as a formal declaration of independence but will fail because China holds a veto in the U.N. Security Council.

“Carried away by its separatist rhetoric, Taiwan’s leadership overlooks the fact that the issue of Taiwan’s membership in the U.N. does not exist as such,” Denisov said.

Earlier this month the European Union said it was concerned by Taiwan’s plans to hold the referendum.

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Commentary: Momentous day for Pakistan, Bhutto’s legacy

March 18, 2008
By Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari is the co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party and widower of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in Pakistan in December.

In this handout photo released by Pakistan Parliament House, ...
In this handout photo released by Pakistan Parliament House, Asif Ali Zardari, left, widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and co-chairman of Pakistan People’s Party waves as former prime minister Nawaz Sharif looks on during the National assembly’s first session at Parliament House in Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday, March 17, 2008. Pakistan inaugurated a new parliament on Monday dominated by opponents of President Pervez Musharraf who have vowed to crimp his powers and review his U.S.-backed policies against al-Qaida and the Taliban.
(AP Photo/Pakistan Parliament House, HO)

(CNN) — Monday was a momentous day for the people of Pakistan, but a bittersweet day for me.

Sitting in the gallery watching a democratically elected National Assembly headed by the Pakistan Peoples Party and its coalition partners, I thought of the terrible price paid for this moment of liberty. I thought of the many jailed, beaten, tortured, and exiled. I thought of all of those who had their reputations assaulted. I thought of the undermining and dismantling of Pakistani civil society. I thought of the attacks on the independence and autonomy of the judicial system. I thought of the censorship of the press, emergency rule and martial law.

But of course more than anything else, I thought of my beloved wife, Shaheed Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto, who sacrificed her life for her beliefs and her country. This was the day of her triumph, the vindication of her long battle for the restoration of democracy. For my country, this was a day of celebration. But for me and our children, this day was also a day of tears. Democracy had come to Pakistan, but at a terrible, terrible price.

Last week, the two largest political parties in Pakistan agreed to form a coalition government that would restore democracy and bring stability to our country. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which I lead after the assassination of my wife, has joined the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, to form a broad-based, democratic, liberal government in Pakistan — an umbrella of reconciliation and consensus. The new prime minister, from the PPP, will be announced within the next few days.

In agreeing to form a coalition government Mr. Sharif and I have responded to the mandate given by the people of Pakistan in the February 18 election. Pakistan’s people no longer want to live under the thumb of a dictator. They want an end to terrorism and violence and wish to join the rest of the modern world in the pursuit of peace and prosperity. They want to restore the supremacy of the people’s house, the National Assembly, and free it from the sword of Damocles of a marginal presidency with inflated, unconstitutional authority.

Pakistan’s political leaders and people have suffered from the politics of personal destruction; we have been battered by dictatorship; we have seen civil society taken apart and a free and independent judiciary destroyed. We have seen international assistance, secured in the name of fighting terrorism, diverted towards making Pakistan’s affluent few richer. We have seen progress on education, health and women’s rights stopped and reversed. But now, with renewed confidence in democratic parties like the PPP and PML-N, it is time for the rebirth of a democratic, vital and progressive Pakistan.

Some fear a coalition government would lack the necessary strength to tackle Pakistan’s myriad problems. But cooperation between the country’s biggest political parties, representing an overwhelming majority of the people, would bring greater stability than one-man rule. Together, the PPP and PML-N will be able to build a strong civil society. That would go a long way to erasing the scars of militarism and militancy. We will focus on providing education and employment at the grassroots levels so the country’s youth can play an integral role in building a strong national economy.

Under the rule of Pervez Musharraf, extremists were allowed to thrive along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The key to improving security there is not to make citizens in Pakistan’s tribal areas feel like second-rate citizens kept under lock and key, caught between the threats of violence from militants and the military. Rather, we must let all of our citizens, including those in the Federally Administered Tribal Area, know they are part participants in the growth of Pakistan’s economy and civil society.

Fostering a better level of trust and understanding among the people in the border areas, and delivering on their key needs, is essential to enhancing security in the FATA and throughout Pakistan. While immediate steps must be taken to hunt down identified terrorists, the long-term solution to extremism lies in respecting the will of the people and in providing them with a means of livelihood at every level — food, clothing, shelter, jobs and education. By talking to and respecting our people, we will be able to isolate the extremists and terrorists.

Those of us who are now in a position of leadership seek, in my wife’s words, “a tomorrow better than any of the yesterdays we have ever known.” We see a Pakistan where all children, regardless of their socio-economic standing or their gender, are guaranteed compulsory and quality primary and secondary education. We see a Pakistani educational system of quality teachers, who receive decent salaries, and teach in modern classrooms with state-of-the-art computers and technology. We see a Pakistan where political madrassas that teach hatred are closed, and educational institutions that focus on science and technology flourish.

The PPP has a vision to build a nation that is one of the great capital markets of the world; a revitalized nation that will generate international investment. We look forward to the complete electrification of all of our villages, the purification of our nation’s drinking water, the privatization of the public sector, the expansion of the energy sector, the development of our export industries, the modernization of our ports and the rebuilding our national infrastructure. All of these elements are essential to a Pakistan where a democratically elected government, with the mandate of the people, confronts and marginalizes the forces of extremism and terrorism wherever they may exist in our nation. In other words, I see the Pakistan for which my wife lived and died.

Pakistan’s democracy has not evolved over the past 60 years because the generals believed they should intervene in politics and run the country. The army’s misperception of itself as the country’s only viable institution, and its deep-rooted suspicion of the civilian political process, has prevented democracy from flourishing. The PPP and its allies will reverse the current regime’s suppression of civil society and free speech. We will establish a Press Complaints Commission similar to that of the United Kingdom and stand up for the democratic rights of citizens to freely establish television and radio stations, subject to the basic legal framework.

While the tasks ahead are not easy, the Pakistan Peoples Party plans to work in good faith with its fellow democratic parties and our coalition allies to achieve our goal of building a new, progressive Pakistan. Everything will not come at once. The reformation of Pakistan — politically, economically and socially — will be a long and complex process. But we are determined to begin and we are determined to succeed.

We did not come this far, we did not sacrifice this much, to fail.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

Cheney Tells Troops U.S. Will Complete Iraq Mission

March 18, 2008
Holly Rosenkrantz

March 18 (Bloomberg) — Vice President Dick Cheney, rallying troops during a visit to Iraq, vowed that the U.S. will stay committed to its mission to end the conflict in the country.

US Vice President Dick Cheney (L) shakes hands with Iraq's ...
US Vice President Dick Cheney (L) shakes hands with Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki ahead of their meeting in Baghdad on March 17. Iraq’s main Sunni parliamentary bloc has boycotted a crucial national reconciliation conference, delivering a fresh blow to the country’s battered political process.(AFP/POOL/Ceerwan Aziz)

“Tyranny in Iraq was worth defeating,” Cheney said today. “Democracy in Iraq is worth defending.”

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the March 20 U.S.- led invasion of Iraq. Cheney spent two days in the country meeting with U.S. commanders and Iraqi leaders to assess the needs of troops before a report on the conflict is delivered to Congress next month. He stayed last night at Balad Air Base, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, where mortar fire could be heard throughout the night.

Cheney later flew to Irbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, to meet with Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdish administration. Iraqi Kurdish leaders have criticized Turkey for an incursion into Iraq last month that targeted the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, saying it was an attack on Iraq’s sovereignty. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union.

There is evidence of “dramatic improvements” in security in Iraq, Cheney said yesterday. U.S. military commanders will brief Congress on progress in the country since President George W. Bush ordered the deployment of 30,000 extra U.S. soldiers and Marines a year ago.

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Cheney warns against large cuts in Iraq

March 18, 2008
By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD – Vice President Dick Cheney warned Monday against large U.S. troop cuts that could jeopardize recent security gains in Iraq, as he marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion with a two-day visit to the country.

Iraq's President Jalal Talabani (R) sits next to U.S. Vice President ...
Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani (R) sits next to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in his office in Baghdad March 17, 2008.
(Mohammed Jalil/Pool/Reuters) 

Cheney used words like “phenomenal” and “remarkable turnaround” to describe a drop in violence in Iraq, and he hailed recently passed legislation aimed at keeping Iraq on a democratic path.

“It would be a mistake now to be so eager to draw down the force that we risk putting the outcome in jeopardy, and I don’t think we’ll do that,” Cheney said after spending the day zigzagging through barricades and checkpoints to get to meetings in and out of the heavily guarded Green Zone. He spent the night at a U.S. military base, the second overnight stay in Iraq for the vice president — the highest-ranking official to do so. Reporters accompanying him were not allowed to disclose the location. Last May, Cheney stayed at Camp Speicher, a base near former leader Saddam Hussein‘s hometown and about 100 miles north of Baghdad.

“It is good to be back in Iraq,” Cheney, dressed in a suit and dark cowboy boots, said after his meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “It’s especially significant, I think, to be able to return this week as we mark the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the campaign that liberated the people of Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, and launched them on the difficult but historic road to democracy.”

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Human rights worsened in Pakistan in 2007: US

March 12, 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Human rights in Pakistan worsened in 2007 despite President Pervez Musharraf‘s repeated pledges to foster democracy in the key US ally, a State Department report said.

Pakistani lawyers during a protest rally in Rawalpindi on March ...
Pakistani lawyers during a protest rally in Rawalpindi on March 10, 2008. Human rights in Pakistan worsened in 2007 despite President Pervez Musharraf’s repeated pledges to foster democracy in the key US ally, a State Department report said.(AFP/File/Aamir Qureshi)

“Despite President Musharraf‘s stated commitment to democratic transition, Pakistan’s human rights situation deteriorated during much of 2007,” the department’s annual report on human rights said.

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Two Paths In Pakistan: Security and Democracy

March 10, 2008

By Henry A. Kissinger
The Washington Post and
Tribune Media Services
March 10, 2008

The elections in Pakistan, far from calming the political crisis, have opened a new phase of it, and the world has a huge stake in the outcome. Pakistan is at the front line of the assault by Islamist radicalism on moderate elements within the Muslim world and on the institutions of the West. But it is far from clear how firm that front is and, indeed, in which direction it will ultimately face. Pakistan is America’s ally in the war on terror, yet a significant part of its people are opposed to that war; Pakistan helped fight al-Qaida in Afghanistan, yet part of its western frontier is occupied by al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Pakistan’s choices will have a significant impact on the 160 million Muslims living in India, as well as on the prospects of peace on the subcontinent, which has already erupted into full-scale war on three occasions.

Most critically, Pakistan is a nuclear power. Athwart strategic crossroads and possessing strategic weapons, Pakistan might lose control of both if its institutions are radicalized or deadlocked as a result of internal conflict. A state occupying strategic terrain but incapable of maintaining control over it could turn into the wildcard of international diplomacy.

The stakes are generally recognized. The remedy has proved elusive. U.S. policy has been to urge President Pervez Musharraf into forming a coalition government with one or more civilian parties, which would then pursue the anti-fundamentalist war in a more coherent and determined manner. That outcome was what the election was supposed to produce.

The goal was laudable. But the results of the election — as in Gaza — show that theoretical preconceptions do not necessarily provide practical remedies, especially in the short run. The challenge for policymakers arises when vital national security objectives are threatened and no viable democratic framework exists. The choice America faced in Pakistan in the aftermath of 9/11 was that Musharraf had taken over less than two years earlier and that the two main political leaders, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, both deposed prime ministers, were in exile. In an ideal world, political and security goals would move on parallel tracks.  In many actual cases, the tracks, even if parallel, may operate by different time scales.

In Europe, the nation and a functioning civil society preceded the formation of democratic institutions. In almost every successful democracy, the constitutional framework is treated as more important than any conflicts within it and guides the process of settling disputes. The opposite is the case in the crescent from the border of India to the shores of Africa. In the absence of a civil society, the losers in a political contest have few motives to subordinate their convictions to the general good, since the definition of the “general good” is precisely what is at issue. In such circumstances, democratic pluralism lacks a social basis — especially in states proclaiming the identity of church and state in the name of a universal religion. Crises are more often sharpened than solved by elections. Political cohesion being forever precarious, coalitions are fragile and authority oscillates between being tenuous or all-pervasive — even in Europe, as in ethnically divided parts like Yugoslavia or Belgium, if the latter in attenuated form.

It surely has been the case in Pakistan. Formed in the partition of British India in 1947 because the Muslim minority rejected rule by the majority Hindu population, its eastern borders the dividing line between the Hindu and Moslem religion, its western borders those of the British raj, Pakistan reflected not a common history so much as a common fear. Until 1971, an East Pakistan region existed — also defined by its Muslim religion — but separated by 2,000 miles of Indian territory from West Pakistan.

Even after East Pakistan seceded to form the new state of Bangladesh, Pakistan was beset by regional conflicts. Punjab’s predominance was resisted in the Sindh region and Baluchistan. The northwest frontier territories remained, as they had under British rule, autonomous; no government, civilian or military, has ever succeeded — or even seriously attempted — to establish its own direct control there.

These circumstances produced the special character of Pakistani foreign and domestic policy. In international affairs, Pakistan allied itself with the United States during the Cold War, if with a special perspective. It received American arms as part of the geopolitical conflict with the Soviet Union, even while it perceived India as its principal security concern. Pakistan proved enormously helpful in facilitating the opening of American relations with China but more for the purpose of creating an additional obligation than devising a common global strategy.

Though elections were held periodically, they usually reflected regional populist loyalties. Governed by feudal principles, the parties were organized for no-holds-barred political contests not mitigated by the restraint imposed by a sense of community. Civilian and military government alternated with each other. No elected government has ever served out its term.

Of the major groupings, Bhutto’s party represented the large landholders of the Sindh province around Karachi; Sharif’s party the commercial classes of the Punjab. Both parties practiced a rampant populism, with Bhutto leaning to left-wing secularism; Sharif relying more on an appeal to Muslim fundamentalists. The feudal organization of the parties is demonstrated by the fact that, within 48 hours of Bhutto’s assassination, her husband, in exile in Dubai after eight years in prison, was appointed de facto head of her party. Sharif, who recently returned from exile, had been overthrown after what Musharraf, then commander of Pakistan’s armed forces, alleged was an assassination plot against him in which he claimed Sharif was implicated.

With populism as the dominant method — if required, tinged with anti-Americanism — the temptation to use radical Islamist movements was ever present. In the 1990s, the Bhutto and Sharif governments cooperated with the fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan and jihadist groups in Kashmir. The military intelligence service used similar methods when the military controlled the government. A government-tolerated “private” network facilitated nuclear proliferation to a number of rogue states.

In such an environment, the relation between Pakistan’s three feudal-type organizations, the military and the major political parties, has more of the character of those among Italian city states during the Renaissance described by Machiavelli than of the party politics of traditional democracies. They have occasionally made temporary alliances — as they appear to be doing now — for tactical purposes, but these have always proved preludes to new confrontations with the military appearing as arbiters in the end. The difference between feudal leaders who wear uniforms and those in civilian clothes is in their constituencies, not in their commitment to a pluralistic process as we understand it.

An alliance between Bhutto, whose father was executed by the military, and Musharraf, who hated the Bhutto family, was destined to be precarious. It was doomed by the impatience with which it was pursued. The unforgivable atrocity of the Bhutto assassination ended the original design.

At this point, any attempt to manipulate the political process that we have urged is likely to backfire. A wise policy must recognize that the internal structure of Pakistani politics is essentially out of the control of American political decision-making. Construction of a centrist coalition is a commendable goal, but the conditions for it can only be nurtured by Pakistani political forces and, in the absence of a center, require patience over a period of time.

The future of President Musharraf will undoubtedly become a major issue as the potential coalition partners seek his removal. It is his task as president — not ours — to manage the consequences of the election. At the same time, it behooves us to remember the valiant support Musharraf gave the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan after 9/11 and his confrontation with jihadist fundamentalism at home. Conspicuous American dissociation would only compound our risks in Pakistan — not to mention the message it would send to other leaders in the region allied to America.

In dealing with the emerging Pakistani leadership, American policy should focus on national security objectives (control of nuclear weapons, counterterrorism cooperation and resistance to Islamist radicalism). Our democratic principles should be clearly conveyed, but we should have learned by now that the evolution of the immediate political process is beyond our reach. Common approaches on the security issues are necessary, including an end of ambiguity toward terrorist enclaves. For most of its history, Pakistani leaders, whether civilian or military, have acted on the principle that good relations with America were in Pakistan’s national interest. A strategic consensus remains imperative. If that effort fails, many countries will be affected and, perhaps more immediately, Pakistan’s stability should not be viewed as an exclusively American challenge.

A starting point is to reconcile ambivalent American attitudes at home, difficult as it may be during an election campaign. We do not have the choice between national security and democratic evolution. Both are important objectives but may be achievable only on different time scales. The next president will have to face this reality in many places, and we can do him or her a favor by conducting our national debate from that perspective.

Musharraf makes stability a priority

March 10, 2008

By Thomas Houlahan
The Washington Times
March 10, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A relaxed and confident President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview that political stability is his top priority and that a war between the presidency and the newly elected parliament would be catastrophic.
“I’m looking forward to working with this government for the full five years,” Mr. Musharraf said. “Even my harshest critics have agreed that the recent elections were free and fair. Now, I want to build on that.”
The interview was conducted Wednesday afternoon in a guest lodge adjacent to Mr. Musharraf’s residence in the Islamabad suburb of Rawalpindi.

In this picture released by Pakistan's Press Information Department, ...
In this picture released by Pakistan’s Press Information Department, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, right, meets Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on Tuesday, March 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Press Information Department, HO)

The atmosphere was informal, at times interrupted….

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Pakistan opposition meets amid anti-Musharraf protests

February 21, 2008

By Danny Kemp 

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – The widower of Pakistan‘s slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto met political leaders to discuss forming a coalition on Thursday as police clashed with protesters opposed to President Pervez Musharraf.
Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf speaks to reporters at ... 
President Musharraf

Asif Ali Zardari was set to hold talks with ex-premier Nawaz Sharif on an alliance that could lead to the impeachment of Musharraf following the defeat of the president’s allies in parliamentary elections on Monday.

With other smaller parties on their side, they are close to the two-thirds majority they would need to seek Musharraf’s impeachment, leaving him in the most precarious position since he seized power in a 1999 coup.

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