In the aftermath of President Pervez Musharraf’s suspension of Pakistan’s constitution, there have been calls for re-evaluation of the relationship between Washington and Islamabad. There have also been threats that the United States might suspend aid to the Pakistani military, most of it intended to assist in their fight against terrorism, specifically al-Qaida and the Taliban. That assistance is estimated to be about $140 million dollars per month.
One of the basic tenets of many American administrations, including that of George Bush, is to support democratic reform around the world. In recent months, the administration has pressured Musharraf to make changes it believes are retarding progress to democracy: step down as army chief, enter a power-sharing arrangement with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and hold free elections.
That appeared to be on track until the recent spate of violence in the country, causing Musharraf to suspend the constitution. After the announcement of the state of emergency on Nov. 3, there have been repeated demands made of Musharraf to reconsider his actions and not delay the elections scheduled for January. The situation in the nuclear-armed country has prompted visits from concerned senior U.S. officials, including Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.
I find it interesting that the United States has singled out Pakistan to be denounced for its slow progress towards democracy, while all but ignoring the abysmal human rights records of its other allies — kingdoms and theocracies that make no pretense of being representative governments. Is there a double standard for different allies?
Several states in the region come to mind: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Emirate of Qatar, the State of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. These countries are long-time allies of the United Sates, yet not one is a representative democracy. Granted, some have low level elections for positions like municipal offices, but in none of these countries does the population have real input to national level decisionmaking and there is no true electorate.
All of the countries above provide some sort of support to the U.S. military, such as basing rights, overflight permission, use of logistics facilities, pre-positioning of military equipment, etc. They all enjoy another important distinction: they are customers of large American defense contractors. These countries buy large quantities of expensive military hardware and are not recipients of American aid because they don’t need it.
Let’s take another example, a country more analogous to Pakistan. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is an American ally. It has been a strong ally in the Middle East for years with the notable exception of Jordan’s support of Saddam Hussein following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Jordan is not a wealthy country and cannot afford to buy American military equipment on its own. Over the years the kingdom has received billions of dollars of American economic and military assistance in return for desert training opportunities and intelligence sharing.
Despite some moves toward a more representative assembly, Jordan is not a democracy and the ultimate authority remains the king. Yet I don’t recall the United States dispatching John Negroponte to Jordan to push for free elections and democratic reforms. I have not seen any past or current American administration apply real pressure on any of our Gulf Arab allies to hold elections and step down as monarchs.
Why not? Could it be that these autocratic regimes are spending huge amounts of money on expensive American weapons? Maybe, but what about Jordan? Jordan, like Pakistan, receives American aid. Pakistan must become a democracy, but Jordan does not?
Bottom line: If you are an autocratic state spending huge amounts of money on American weapons and allowing U.S. forces to use your territory, you get a pass. If you are Pakistan, receiving billions in American assistance, you need to be moving toward democracy unless you fall into some undefined category like Jordan.
Why don’t we treat Pakistan like Jordan? This sounds like a double standard to me.