Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s assumption of Pakistan’s presidency Wednesday was condemned as another turn away from democracy. The general, who had ruled as “chief executive” since he overturned the “elected, if unpopular” government of Nawaz Sharif in 1999, removed the incumbent figurehead, President Rafiq Tarar, and dissolved legislatures suspended since the coup. The Financial Times was unconvinced by the Musharraf camp’s claims that the presidency would give him “greater credibility” in a July summit with India and that it would provide “stability, continuity and faster progress” in reforms. While the FT praised Musharraf for cracking down on corruption and imposing fiscal discipline, it criticized his failure to implement political reforms, “leaving doubts about whether next year’s elections can be really fair.” It concluded, “Far from ensuring stability, his move is likely to upset international confidence in his regime.” The Times of London said Musharraf “must retrace his steps towards democracy” and “should not make the mistake of thinking that he can simply rewrite the democracy rulebook whenever he sees fit. He has made sincere efforts to stop the corruption that set in under his elected predecessors from rotting Pakistan’s economy; but he must not replace one sickness in the body politic with another.”
The Times of India noted that the new title will minimize protocol problems at Musharraf’s July 14-16 summit with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee: “He can and will now be greeted with the protocol befitting a head of state.” An editorial in the paper dismissed the notion that Musharraf’s negotiating position at the summit will now be stronger: “[A] self-appointed chief executive is, in no manner, in any better or worse position to represent his country’s interests at a high-powered summit meeting than a self-appointed president.” It concluded that although the move signaled the general’s intention to “extend his reign” beyond the three-year deadline set by Pakistan’s supreme court, India should be practical: “Pragmatism and good judgment … require that the Indian government learns to deal with general Musharraf on a long-term basis, irrespective of the legitimacy or otherwise of his rule or the nomenclature of the office that he holds.” Although soldiers have ruled Pakistan for 26 of the 53 years since independence, the Nation of Pakistan predicted problems ahead when Musharraf serves as both president and head of the army:
[T]he Army would directly influence the process of decision-making instead of working from behind, as in the past. … This will create a gulf between those in the khaki and the general public which does not visualise any role for the Army beyond guarding the national borders.
Secluded summits: Rioting at the European Union summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, last week left three anti-globalization demonstrators shot, one seriously, and at least 12 policemen injured. In the wake of the protests, which caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage, European leaders announced plans to hold all future EU summits behind a tight security cordon in Brussels. Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung grumbled that henceforth politicians will be sealed off from the public: “This is particularly regrettable in view of the fact that planned enlargement and further EU reform require a more open debate with euroskeptic citizens.” (German translation courtesy of BBC Monitoring.) The anti-EU Sunday Telegraph agreed, noting: “Under fire, the bureaucrats have retreated to their fortress. But it is not the thuggish unemployed that they should fear. It is the disenfranchised bourgeoisie.” Clarín of Argentina reported that security services were considering threats, sourced to Osama Bin Laden, to attack President Bush when he attends the July G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, “totally serious.” According to Britain’s Observer, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will “shut down” Genoa for the four days of the meeting—closing the airport, restricting access to train stations and key road junction, and confining demonstrators in special protest zones. The Guardian declared summiteers the modern equivalent of medieval wayfarers:
Trappings of power apart, they are travellers in suits, the Gypsies and tinkers of new age diplomacy. Their caravans bring fear and loathing to the common people and big bills for local ratepayers. What they all need is one, permanent home—a summit centre where they can cause the minimum of trouble. St Helena springs to mind, or Devil’s Island, or the vacant Alcatraz.
Happy birthday, Astana! A dispatch in the Sydney Morning Herald described the high-stepping pageantry at the third-anniversary celebration of the world’s youngest capital, Astana, Kazakhstan. The party, fueled by khumiss (“the fermented mare’s milk that has a kick like a mare in ferment”), raged from noon, when the strains of an ABBA melody started the festivities, until 4 a.m., when the last fulsome tribute was paid to Kazakhstan’s “superstar president,” Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Monkey business: An agency report in the Sydney Morning Herald offers the last word on the “monkey man“—the 4-feet-tall creature with the face of a monkey accused of attacking scores of New Delhi residents in May. A special crack police team has determined that the monkey man menace, which left five dead and more than 75 injured in the Indian capital, was a figment of the victims’ imaginations. According to the report, investigators “have ruled out the involvement of any criminal gang, robot or animal in the ‘attacks’ on some residents of the city. … [M]ost of the victims bore self-inflicted injuries as they fell prey to ‘fear psychosis’ caused by rumours. None of the victims bore signs of animal bites or scratch marks.”