Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Musharraf – It’s Time To Quit!

Syed Farooq Hasnat
Adjunct Scholar
Middle East Institute
Washington, D.C.

- May 24th, 2007

- Even the most well-versed pundits of Pakistani politics did not expect the turmoil currently plaguing the country.

General Pervez Musharraf, who has ruled Pakistan for nearly eight years without much resistance, has suddenly found himself in the middle of a crisis. The government mishandled an otherwise routine judicial matter right from the start. First, the chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was suspended. Next, the order was hurriedly withdrawn since it contradicted the spirit of Pakistan’s constitution. Then, the chief justice and his family were virtually put under house arrest, which provoked sharp condemnations from across the country.

Chaudhry has become a symbol of resistance against Musharraf’s dictatorial rule. A mass movement supporting Justice Chaudhry is spearheaded by lawyers and supported by opposition political parties and civil rights groups.

When the army staged a coup in October 1999, the major political parties led by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had lost public support because of rampant corruption and misrule during their administrations. General Musharraf took advantage of public apathy and exiled both leaders - although for different reasons.

In recent months the high court under Chief Justice Chaudhry showed its strength when it dealt with habeas corpus issues and other matters that linked the government to corruption. In the past, the military governments easily intimidated Pakistan’s high courts. Notable among the court decisions that went against the regime was the issue of missing persons. At the time, it was feared that many Pakistani citizens were being handed over to the US intelligence agencies without providing valid evidence that they were involved in any unlawful acts. The second matter, which irked the military government, was the court’s nullification of the sale of the Pakistan Steel Mill, which was to be sold to a private party known to the Prime Minister, at a much cheaper price than its market value.

The Supreme Court’s new attitude is putting Musharraf on edge ahead of the 2007 elections, which are important for his survival as Pakistan’s leader. The court still has a number of contentious issues to decide that also make the military leadership nervous: Can the president be elected twice by the same assembly? Could the president remain in military uniform and still be president? Should the two exiled leaders Bhutto and Sharif be allowed to take part in the elections? There are also questions about the transparency of the elections and the dual nationality of the prime minister.

With the threat of an independent judiciary, Musharraf removed the chief justice, but he miscalculated the resilience of the judge who refused to resign. Musharraf also miscalculated the level of widespread public support for the opponent of his military rule. Street protests also exposed the vulnerability of his ruling Q League (the Pakistan Muslim League).

This is the first time in Pakistan’s 60-year history that a mass movement has been launched without the leadership of political parties. Now it’s the politicians who are following the dictates of the public mood and the legal community. This is also the first time that the army as an institution has been the target of public resentment. Previously, it was individual military personalities who were singled out for criticism.

Pakistan is not, however, politically “fragmented” along the lines of moderates and fundamentalists, as Musharraf has claimed. Recent events illustrate that the real contention is between those pushing for democratic reforms and those who support continued military rule.

Initially, the Musharraf regime thought public resentment would fizzle, mainly because of the summer heat and the political apathy that has prevailed for the last eight years. Instead, with every passing day the situation has worsened for Musharraf. Unprecedented public support for the judge and opposition to the government was apparent on May 5 when Justice Chaudhry was showered with rose petals by supporters as he journeyed from Islamabad to Lahore. The trip, which usually takes about five hours, took more than 26 hours as he greeted supporters along the way. Many had waited overnight to greet their new “symbol of resistance.”

On May 12, when the Chief Justice visited Karachi at the invitation of Sindh High Court Bar Association, an ethnic group, MQM — a staunch supporter of General Musharraf — blocked the judge from addressing the lawyers gathered there. Karachi erupted. After three days of riots, 42 people had died and more than 150 were injured. On May 16, General Musharraf gave his full backing to the MQM and showed no sympathy for the killings. The Karachi carnage has further weakened his military rule.

The general is left with few options for survival. He and his ministers have hinted at imposing a state of emergency or even Martial Law. He specifically stated that he is ready for extra constitutional measures to enhance his stay in power. But the mood of the people shows that such tactics will face widespread and stiff public resistance.

The only option left for General Musharraf is to form a neutral interim government and to hold free and open parliamentary elections. It’s time for him to quit - the army and the presidency.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are sad indications that President Musharraf and his allies are inflicting irreparable blows on key components of the civil society in Pakistan that mostly comprise of, represent and cater to vastly moderate elements of Pakistan’s society.

Musharraf claims that he has promoted “enlightened moderation” in Pakistan. Why then the country’s educationally and professionally enlighted and most moderate legal personnel have fallen totally out of line with him?

There is a constant climate of coercion against all norms of civility at the hand of some ethnic extremists. One after another, the judiciary, the media and now even the artists are being meted out an attitude of intimidation.

Three senior journalists, two working for Agence France Press and one for Associated Press have received envelopes with gun bullets. This happens just four days after a council of ethnic extremists declared putting those journalists on a black list.

In fact, Musharraf’s recent policies and actions are a disservice to Western efforts to promote moderation in Pakistan. Could someone explain why his political partners in Punjab beat up lawyers and allies in Sind have launched a confrontation with the country’s educationally and professionally enlighted and most moderate legal personnel?

Is it because first Musharraf used his uniformed subordinates to bully Pakistan’s Chief Justice to resign. As the measures to harass the judge backfired, Musharraf then asked some of his civilian colleagues to harass the Karachi’s lawyer community? So much for choice, freedom of expression and freedom of movement.

Musharraf claims to be promoting the forces of moderation but many coalition partners practice indimidation and demonstrate clear disregard for tolerance and accomodation.

Those interested may look how internationally concern is being increasingly voiced that Musharraf is weakening civic forces that could ensure rule of law and good governance through participatory politics supported by moderate elements. All signs indicate that those very moderate elements were first alienated, then marginalised and now being

What happened on 9 March discomforted and disjolted the enlightened section of the Pakistani society. What took place on 12 May
quelled moderate elements of the country’s industrial, shipping hub and business capital. One wonders if the champions of enlightened moderation at the centre and their henchmen in Sind could tell if their recent actions have taken moderation forward, pushed it backwards or have left it unaffected?

One silver lining example is the outstanding characteristic of Oxford educated Imran Khan who leads the moderate youth across Pakistan. He is untiringly spirited to raise his voice for justice. As denial and delay of justice hits many circles in Pakistan, many at home and abroad find it appropriate to join hands for a common cause. One such cause that Imran Khan has taken up is to call for investigating in to causes and consequences that led to tragic loss of 40 lives in Karachi on 12 May, 2007. Instead of supporting elements like Imran Khan to become the voice of the voiceless, President Musharraf and his coalition partners have unleashed unreserved criticism against the principled stand of this national hero and international sports icon.

6:06 AM  

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