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The Pakistan Coup
Pakistan has the bomb. It also has an antagonizing enemy, which also has the bomb. It has a passionately disputed territory which it dearly wants to see liberated from its enemy. Now, Pakistan has a new military leader who has proven his willingness to actively engage the enemy for the sake of that disputed territory, in defiance of world opinion. Seems volatile, doesnt it?
Yet, one hears no stammer in the voices from Washington; no tense and indignant outbursts or warnings about illegal, despotic rebellion, or terrorist political solutions. At worst, the coup has been referred to as "extra-constitutional." Hardly a word dramatic enough to describe the rather awesome efficiency of the Pakistani army taking control of the airport, television and radio stations, and scaling the walls of the prime ministers home and arresting him, while sending troops out across the country to detain most government officials; all in less than three hours.
The Pentagon was quick to declare that the Pakistani nuclear capability was under stable control. CNN reported that Pakistanis were "dancing in the streets" to celebrate the removal of Nawaz Sharif whose corruption, increasingly dictatorial style, and acquiescence to U.S. demands for a military pullout from Kashmir, have all contributed to widespread public hostility. But the reticence of American reaction indicates that Pakistanis might do well to postpone their celebrations.
Pakistan is a country buckling under the weight of enormous debt, owing international creditors approximately $32 billion. It is reliant on loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, although the IMF has only promised a total loan of $3.3 billion (the terms of which had not been negotiated before the coup), which still leaves Pakistan with an unmanageable debt of almost $30 billion.
The fact that the terms of this loan are pending cannot be ignored in light of the coup. The IMF program, more often than not, requires recipient countries to impose so-called "austerity measures" on their populations, which, basically, re-channel public spending (education, health, and welfare) to service debt repayment. The corruption of Sharifs unpopular government, which many Pakistanis already felt denied services to the poor, would have made it impossible for Nawaz Sharif to successfully impose the IMF austerity measures.
The coup has changed the situation considerably. General Pervez Musharraf is in a position to impose any measures on the people that he can justify as necessary for stability. Even a new constitutional government will be subordinate to that of the militarythe coup has established that fact. Ultimately, all authority over Pakistan, including that over the military, unfortunately, rests in the hands of transnational financial institutions such as the IMF.
A coup can never overthrow a countrys debt. This is the explanation for U.S. calm. The military has, from the beginning, controlled Pakistans nuclear arsenal, the coup has not changed this fact. The immediate imposition of sanctions, the suspension of IMF funding, the condemnation by the European Union, all are intended, not to punish Pakistan, but to take advantage of the state of emergency, requiring Pakistans new leadership to prove its compliance, and, above all, to reassert that the coup has not changed Pakistans dependence on foreign lenders.
There is little question that the United States was aware that a coup was pending; several weeks ago, in fact, President Clinton actually commented on it. There is little question that, despite rhetorical disapproval, the U.S. is not chagrined by the overthrow. It is worth noticing that, unlike the 1991 overthrow of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the United States is not calling for the return of the elected president. According to an October 16 Reuters article, a Washington official was quoted as saying that the reinstatement of Nawaz Sharif "was not a practical solution to the current political crisis." President Clinton said, "as a matter of principle, the United States, any country, never attempts to select the leaders for any other country ...the people are supposed to do that, not us." Clinton apparently forgot that Sharif was selected by the people in a much heralded democratic election.
Rather than seeking the return of Sharif, calls were made for a return to "constitutional government." This sufficiently demonstrates tacit American approval of Sharifs overthrow. A military invitation for General Musharraf to visit Centcom headquarters in Florida, informatively, still stands.
The most support Nawaz Sharif is able to elicit from his former sponsors is a polite nod from President Clinton in recognition of his acquiescent removal of Pakistani troops from the Line of Control in Kashmir.
The U.S. does not mind supporting unpopular governments, until their unpopularity rises to such a level as to make them incompetent to fulfill their obligations as a client government.
A military dictatorship, even under the guise of a technocratic government, is far more reliable in imposing "macro-economic" reforms such as those required by the IMF, and in states of emergency, nearly any measures are accepted without opposition.
In the end, the change of governments in Pakistan does not raise much alarm in the West because economic "globalization" has left most Third World governments with little more to do than carry out the edicts of Western powers.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto criticized Nawaz Sharif for running the government like his own private corporation, but with overwhelming debt and minimal national product, General Musharraf may find that the CEO of that corporation is not the head of Pakistan, but the heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Z
Shahid Bolsen is a free-lance writer based in Denver.