Mail Call: Pakistan’s Elections

Readers of our Feb. 11 issue reacted to Pakistan's elections. One wrote, "Aitzaz Ahsan was selective in narrating what led to the chief justice's removal." Another agreed with Imran Khan: "Armed action against the Pashtuns won't succeed." A third said, "Parliament will annul 'president' Musharraf's actions."

Pakistan ' s Post-Election Issues
It saddened me to note that a man of Aitzaz Ahsan's stature was selective in narrating the events that led to the removal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry from office ("Pakistan's Forgotten Man," Feb. 11). He omitted mentioning that Chaudhry was first asked to resign in March 2007 to save him the embarrassment of facing charges on a host of shoddy acts, ranging from judicial impropriety to nepotism and misuse of office. Backed by an array of anti-Pervez Musharraf forces, Chaudhry refused to resign. Consequently, Pakistan's Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), comprising senior judges of the Supreme Court and chief justices of the four provincial high courts, started regular hearings on the matter. Ahsan, an astute politician and senior member of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, promptly started a protest campaign. Personally chauffeuring Chaudhry across the country, and in the process getting wide personal coverage on Pakistan's thriving private TV networks, Ahsan led many of the country's lawyers in projecting Chaudhry as a David, defiantly standing up to a powerful Goliath. The ensuing furor forced the SJC to suspend hearings and refer the case to a larger bench of the Supreme Court. In the end, instead of investigating the veracity of the charges, the Supreme Court upheld Ahsan's petition on behalf of Chaudhry that the SJC was not competent to try the chief justice. In a country that desperately needs a transparent system of accountability, the nation's top lawyer successfully argued that under Article 209 of the country's Constitution, no charges could be filed against the chief justice and that the SJC could not inquire into Chaudhry's conduct. Ahsan won the day and the case was thrown out on a technicality. As a result, the Pakistani nation may never find out if there was any truth in the charges brought against Chief Justice Chaudhry.
Hasan Pervez
Karachi, Pakistan

Aitzaz Ahsan is right in claiming that he alone is keeping the issue of judges alive in Pakistan today. But for him to claim that Chaudhry, "Pakistan's forgotten man," is the most popular person in the country is not really true. Chaudhry is popular today only because Pervez Musharraf is unpopular. He had the good timing to fall afoul of Musharraf just when everyone started detesting the president. Even those "enlightened moderates" who supported Musharraf in his first few years now wish him out at the earliest. But Chaudhry is no saint. He's a rallying point only as long as Musharraf hangs around. As soon as Musharraf goes, Chaudhry will fade away. Ahsan would be well advised not to keep all his eggs in one basket. His ties to Benazir Bhutto's PPP offer a better option for his political survival—so necessary because Pakistan needs people like him at the top.
Jan Muhammad
Lahore, Pakistan

A Niazi Pashtun himself, Imran Khan is right when he says that mere armed action against Pashtuns will not succeed ("Better a 'Bad Democrat'," Feb. 11). Historically, it has never succeeded. A large force always had to be deployed to keep Pashtuns in check, and invariably they had to be heavily bribed by regimes that wanted to buy peace. This was the method India's Mughal emperors employed; later, it was also used by the British. Even so, absolute peace could never be established in this area, but a workable peace was created. As for democracy, it is futile to blame the Army or Pervez Musharraf. Each time Pakistani politicians were given the chance to practice democracy, they failed. It did not work for more than six months. Whenever politicians failed and created a mess, the Army stepped in. It has been a complex problem. Pakistan needs to build up its independent institutions for democracy to thrive there.
S. H. Zaidi
Karachi, Pakistan

I am writing about Imran Khan's interview, "Better a 'Bad Democrat'," in your Feb. 11 issue. A Niazi Pashtun himself, Khan is quite right when he says that mere armed action against Pashtuns will not succeed. It has never succeeded historically. Large forces have always had to be deployed to keep Pashtuns in check, and invariably they have had to be heavily bribed by previous regimes that wanted to buy peace. This was the method that India's Mughal emperors employed; later, it was also used by the British. Even so, absolute peace could never be established in this area, but a workable peace was created. As for democracy, it is futile to blame the Army or Pervez Musharraf. A number of times, Pakistani politicians were given the chance to implement democracy, but each time they failed. Democracy did not work for more than six months. Whenever politicians failed and created a mess, the Army stepped in. It's been a complex problem. Pakistan must build up its independent institutions for democracy to thrive.
Narendra Kumar
Chandigarh, India

Now that national elections have returned opposition politicians to the assemblies, Pervez Musharraf wants to take credit for a "free and fair" general election in Pakistan. The fact is that, as in other fields, Musharraf's allies have proved their inefficiency—even in rigging the elections! Musharraf's commitment to democracy is evident from his postelection statement that the winner will be "allowed" to form the government. Musharraf became president after getting a vote from the outgoing assemblies. This controversial action was contested in the Supreme Court. When the verdict was about to be announced, he struck by playing his double role as Army chief and president: he proclaimed an extraconstitutional "emergency," promulgated a "provisional constitutional order" (PCO) and asked only compliant judges to retake the oath under this PCO. The judges who were known to be independent-minded were not asked—nor would they have complied under this illegal, unconstitutional order. Thus, after purging the legitimate judiciary, Musharraf presided over the fraud of an "election." Mission accomplished, he lifted the emergency. The real question, then, should be whether the winners, who will form the new government, allow Musharraf to remain president. The new Parliament is likely to annul all the actions taken by "President" Musharraf after the proclamation of an "emergency" that was never called for by the situation in the country.
S. H. Zaidi
Karachi, Pakistan

While the new leadership has been given a chance to prove that every Pakistani has a say in how this sovereign country is run, we forget some pertinent questions. Who is to be blamed for the loss of so many lives? Whatever happened to the proofs of pre-poll rigging? And how can blatant poll rigging be ignored? It may be argued that in Pakistan, stuffing ballot boxes in a couple of hundred places is normal, or that the loss of life wasn't as bad as predicted. But the question remains, why? Why is it that we have stooped so low in our moral standards? Why does our society, particularly the intelligentsia, refuse to ask questions? It may be "cool" to hold candlelight vigils and chant slogans, for or against the idols of belief, but shouldn't the vanguards of justice and social values be as worried about what can only be called "ignorance"? Our nation may be better off now than in the recent past, but it's time we start raising the bar higher and demanding what citizens of the 21st century should have. Our problems will not get solved by a small majority voting on Election Day; they will be solved only by raising the national consciousness.
Osama Bin Javaid
Via Internet from Pakistan

Anxiety Over the Economy
Your reports in the Feb. 4 cover story, "Road to Recession," failed to focus on the real economy. Instead, NEWSWEEK has joined with the current and past administrations in gauging the health of the U.S. economy by the well-being of speculative traders on Wall Street, proposing "fixes" whose main purpose is to bail them out. What this tactic ignores is that the real purpose of stocks is to invest funds in return for a share of profits in the form of dividends, just as the real purpose of buying a home is to live in it. What has happened now is that Wall Street has securitized the mortgages and relied on a pyramid scheme of trading stocks for capital gains, with the hope that the bubble wouldn't burst when the music stopped. Home buyers were induced to participate in the same excesses. The fix? Bail these folks out, but don't bother with extended employment benefits or food stamps. As both John McCain and John Edwards have pointed out, special interests have long ago taken over the agenda of our nation, to the detriment of the vast majority of Americans.
Benjamin C. Riggs Jr.
Newport, Rhode Island

The Fed should ideally focus on the next six years, not the next six months. But the Fed has to deal with the current reality, whether or not created by past Fed policy—and the current reality is dire. If we can't reduce homeowner refinancing rates, if we can't return the banking sector to profitability, if we can't reduce credit-market risk spreads, if we can't save the bond-insurance industry, then what is the point of taking a six-year view? With the latest 50-basis-point cut, the Fed is finally dealing with the deflationary crisis we have, rather than the inflationary world the academics fear.
Bruce Lueck
Raleigh, North Carolina

The Fed is also responsible for the present problem: it set interest rates too low, possibly to make President Bush's tax cuts look good. The resulting competition to loan money led to the current problem.
Sidney Bertram
Scotts Valley, California

The executives of health-insurance companies earn millions of dollars in salaries (UnitedHealthcare's former president received $1 billion before he was investigated). If there were some limit on these corporate salaries, there would be health-insurance funding for all Americans, including those uninsured.
Stephen M. Kreitzer, M.D.
Tampa, Florida

Chemical Additives Examined
It should be noted that most of the chemical additives addressed in "The Chemicals Within" (Feb. 11) have already been banned by the European Union, based on its own studies showing the products to be unsafe. The FDA and the EPA issue statements saying that no studies prove a connection between the chemical additives and disease, or state that more research is required. The statements do not say that there are EU studies showing such a causal connection, but that the United States fails and refuses to recognize the EU studies or fund research to determine the accuracy of those studies. I no longer believe that the FDA and EPA are the global "gold standard" for public safety, and I have little confidence that public safety is placed above corporate interests. Until these "grandfathered" chemical additives are proved safe, the United States should adopt the EU standards and ban their use. For my household, with one toddler and a baby on the way, I buy products that meet EU standards whenever possible, though I have to shop online and pay more.
Robin Mcstay
Weaverville, California

While "The Chemicals Within" sounded an appropriate cautionary note on human exposure to common chemicals, it certainly could have benefited by being vetted by a chemist. The supposed formula for "phthalates" was instead for an organic phosphate, while the formulas for PBA and PBDE showed cyclohexane rings instead of the correct benzene rings.
E. Thomas Strom
Dallas, Texas

Endangered, or Merely Adorable?
While I don't condone Japan's hunting of whales, it seems that Japan's critics are also out of line. In the Feb. 4 PERISCOPE item "Why Japan Risks Its Place in the World to Hunt Whales," you state that "whaling opponents argue you don't need to kill the giant mammals in order to study them." However, that depends entirely on what you want to study. There are many researchers around the world who kill other animals for various types of research. I don't know what sort of research the Japanese claim to be doing, but whale oil has been considered a very high-quality oil for a long time. If you want to study how that oil is produced, it is probably necessary to kill the whales. In the same sentence, you state that the whaling opponents "note that blubber ... continues to turn up on sushi menus." Maybe the opponents would be less upset if the Japanese killed the whales, cut out what they wanted to study and then threw out everything else. I wouldn't be surprised if this is what many American researchers do when they need to kill animals for study. In my mind, this shows even less respect, or value, for the killed animal than finding a use for as much as possible of what is not needed for the research. Finally, in the last paragraph, when you write that Japan has already stopped hunting "endangered" humpback whales, I believe you are admitting by omission that not all whales are endangered. Are the Japanese actually killing endangered species? This needs to be made clear.
Bob Potter
Asaka, Japan

I was quite surprised by the distorted article on Japanese whale hunting in your Feb. 4 PERISCOPE. Japanese vessels are engaging in whale hunts, but they do so in compliance with international agreements. The violent harassment against the hunts by self-styled "environmentalists," which you don't mention at all, is also unacceptable and should not be justified. Whether all kinds of whales are really endangered species is quite controversial. It is said that the number of some whales is on the increase, but the "environmentalists" are turning a blind eye to such facts. They want to protect whales not because they are endangered animals but because they are charming, intelligent mammals, unlike cows and pigs.
Kyoichi Kunimi
Fujisawa City, Japan

While Executing the Death Penalty
I read your Nov. 19 article about the death penalty ("Injection of Reflection," Nov. 19) with mingled disgust, anger and dismay as I reflected on the continuing barbaric need to kill another human being expressed by so many Americans. No murder could be committed with as much premeditation as a capital-punishment execution. If, as proponents of capital punishment typically contend, we execute to deter, then maximum deterrence would occur if executions were witnessed by as many people as possible. Undoubtedly, that would mean televised executions, and the first televised execution some evening during prime time would almost certainly be the last execution ever.
Frank Cameron
Highland, Utah

Your article "Injection Of Reflection" reported that the Arizona attorney general became physically ill after witnessing a gas-chamber execution in 1992. I was that attorney general, and it never happened. I had campaigned on reinstating the death penalty in my state. Twenty-nine years after the last execution in Arizona, Don Harding was executed for the brutal murders of two businessmen in Tucson. All the local media were present, and radio and TV stations provided live coverage from the 10 o'clock news through the execution well after midnight. Although the media witnesses thought it necessary to meet the press afterward and give their impressions and opinions, I thought otherwise. I found the experience sad and serious, but necessary. I thought it best to leave quietly after having done my job, and believed that this would speak more to this issue than any words I could have said on that occasion. A reporter began circulating this alternative story some months later. Upon confrontation by my staff, he admitted he made it up. Thank you, NEWSWEEK, for allowing me to clear up this urban myth.
Grant Woods
Arizona Attorney General (19911999)
Phoenix, Arizona