- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2000

Pakistan democracy

A close aide to Pakistan's military ruler insisted yesterday that the country is encouraging a public debate on reforming Pakistan's corrupt democracy and is following a timetable for the return of civilian government.

"Every member of this government is fully committed to democracy," Javed Jabbar told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

Mr. Jabbar, who advises Gen. Pervez Musharraf on democratic reforms, media relations and other national affairs, is in Washington to give policy-makers an update on Pakistan since Gen. Musharraf overthrew Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October. Sharif was sentenced to life in prison this month on charges of hijacking and terrorism.

Mr. Jabbar said the military today is different from the army of the past, which periodically imposed authoritarian rule on Pakistan.

"The leadership is very open-minded," he said.

Gen. Musharraf has not censored the press and is encouraging wide debate about how to restructure Pakistan's democracy and shift it away from the corrupt politics of the past, he said.

Mr. Jabbar was a close aide to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, once seen as a model of South Asian democracy. She now stands convicted of corruption and is living in London while she appeals to the Pakistan Supreme Court.

He makes no apologies for his former mentor.

"I regret to say that her [Pakistan Peoples' Party] is run like a fiefdom. Benazir was elected chairman for life," he said.

Mr. Jabbar said Pakistan is searching for a democratic model that will suit a country of 140 million people, where only about 35 percent bother to vote. He said one proposal is to make voting mandatory. Another is to make the size of parliament larger so that the parliamentary districts will be smaller.

"We too rigidly tried to transfer a Westminster model," he said, referring to the adoption of a British-styled parliament. "The lesson of history is that in each country, democracy adapts itself to the local conditions."

The State Department has criticized Gen. Musharraf's coup and urged him to set a timetable for the restoration of democracy.

Mr. Jabbar said Pakistan is planning for local elections by July 2001 but preparations are complex. One reform is updating the voter rolls, which were last changed 18 years ago, he said.

Mr. Jabbar said Gen. Musharraf is planning a human rights convention to begin April 24 and has invited international observers to participate.

"It is going to be very ironic that a military government is going to hold a civil rights conference," Mr. Jabbar said. "He has invited U.N. observers so the world can see what we are trying to do."

Saudi invitation

Amnesty International, responding to criticism from the Saudi Arabian Embassy, produced letters yesterday that showed it asked for a meeting with the Saudi ambassador and requested a visa last week.

The international human rights groups wrote Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan on April 11 to seek a visa for Deputy Executive Director Curt Goering and on April 13 to ask for a meeting with the ambassador.

The embassy last week said it was unaware of either letter and criticized the group for issuing an April 12 press release, announcing both requests without first making the embassy aware of its move.

Embassy Row yesterday quoted Prince Bandar's assistant, Adel Jubeir, who said, "I find it very interesting that Amnesty International would issue a press release to request a visit or a meeting with the ambassador when nobody in the embassy has heard about it."

Mr. Goering, in his April 13 letter to Prince Bandar, referred to an earlier Amnesty report titled "Saudi Arabia: A Secret State of Suffering." Amnesty has criticized Saudi Arabia for the amputation of the hands of thieves and the decapitation of murderers, rapists and drug dealers. Mr. Jubeir and other Saudi officials have defended the punishments as just under Islamic law.

"I very much appreciate an opportunity to meet directly with Your Highness and discuss with you the concerns raised in the above-mentioned report and hear your responses," Mr. Goering said in his letter.

The Associated Press this week reported that Saudi Arabia has invited Amnesty International to visit the country.

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