Tuesday’s coup in Pakistan is not the destruction of the democratic process that it appears to be at first glance. Instead, the coup might actually strengthen democracy in Pakistan and ultimately decrease the historic tensions between India and Pakistan.
In Tuesday’s bloodless attack, Pakistani troops seized the state-run media and placed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif under house arrest. Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, chief of the Pakistani Army, was declared the leader of Pakistan. The attack appeared to be a response to Sharif’s attempt to fire the general earlier that day.
While the coup could be seen as a dreadful subversion of the democratic process, most citizens seemed either ambivalent or supportive of the situation. Citizens danced in the streets and few troops were stationed in the cities, revealing little support for Prime Minister Sharif.
While democratically elected, over the course of his term, Sharif has lost popularity for a number of reasons. While he ran in part as a businessman who would develop Pakistan’s economy, during his term, Pakistan has actually lost ground and many citizens have seen their standard of living decline.
Although no leader has absolute control over the economy, Sharif’s actions in the political arena were far more disturbing. Sharif seemed to be systematically trying to destroy the balance of power with the intent of gaining dictator-like power for himself. He attempted to decrease the power of the judiciary and also tried to take power away from the provincial governments. He also acted harshly to quell opposition movements, going so far as to exile former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
In contrast to Sharif’s heavy-handed approach, Musharraf, for the time being, appears to be acting calmly with the intention of maintaining democratic processes and stability. Musharraf has not declared martial law, which would have dissolved parliament and suspended the country’s constitution, and, as of yet, no lives have been lost in the takeover. In a show of support for Musharraf, the exiled Bhutto said, “For Pakistan, Oct. 12 will not be remembered as the day democracy died, but rather the day that it began to be reborn.”
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the coup is the possible increase of tensions between Pakistan and India, even more disturbing now that both countries are confirmed nuclear powers. However, while India put its border troops on high alert, new Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpaye said India is willing to talk to any regime. If Musharraf is able to retain his apparent course toward a calm return to democracy, Pakistan will likely be able to maintain its current shaky armistice with India.
Although a military coup is generally not a favorable occurrence, in this case, Musharraf might ultimately create a more stable global environment. While his methods of removing Sharif are not commendable, the people of Pakistan appear to at least tacitly support Musharraf, and until there is a clear reason not to do so, the United States should follow suit.