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A Primer on the Current Situation in Pakistan

On November 3, 2007, General President Musharraf of Pakistan, imposed emergency rule in Pakistan (the text of the declaration is here), citing a need to curb terrorism and restricting activist judges. Reputable Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir reported on Geo TV … Read More

By / November 8, 2007

On November 3, 2007, General President Musharraf of Pakistan, imposed emergency rule in Pakistan (the text of the declaration is here), citing a need to curb terrorism and restricting activist judges. Reputable Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir reported on Geo TV (Pakistan's largest private cable news station) that the US gave the green-light for Musharraf to go ahead and call the emergency.

Musharraf's decision came a few days before Pakistan's Supreme Court was set to rule on a series of cases that would have challenged his legitimacy to hold the post of president and chief of military simultaneously. The Provisional Constitutional Order (text) that followed the emergency declaration, put Pakistan's 1973 constitution into abeyance , and suspended all fundamental rights:

With the Islamic provisions of the Constitution to remain in force, the fundamental rights as enshrined in Article 9 (security of person), 10 (safeguard as to arrest and detention), 15 (freedom of movement, etc.), 16 (freedom of assembly), 17 (freedom of association), 19 (freedom of speech, etc.) and 25 (equality of citizens) shall remain suspended.

The suspension of fundamental rights has already led to four men being convicted of treason for making anti-government speeches. Pakistan's private TV stations were all blacked out and sale of satellite dishes was halted. Hundreds of lawyers and activists around the country were detained or put under house arrest, and the most recent estimate is that around 2500 people are in jail.

General Musharraf, who came to power in a coup in 1999, is a close ally of President Bush's war on terror. He has received nearly $10 billion in aid since 2001 and the Bush administration has asked Congress to approve nearly $800 million more for the coming year.

Most of the aid is in the form of untraceable cash transfers , sometimes reaching $100 million a week. 

On Wednesday, President Bush made a telephone call to General Musharraf:

President Bush telephoned General Musharraf for the first time since the crisis began and bluntly told him that he had to return Pakistan to civilian rule, hold elections and step down as chief of the military, as he had promised. Mr. Bush called him from the Oval Office at 11:30 a.m. Washington time, and spoke for about 20 minutes, according to the White House.

However, the impact of the President Bush's demands seems minimal in light of the fact that:

Bush administration officials are unanimous in saying that American financial support for Pakistan will continue regardless of whether General Musharraf reverses course.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, initial demonstrations were limited to lawyers and journalists, with lawyers bearing a significant amount of crush, including prosecution under anti-terrorism laws. A Western traveler in Pakistan noted that while city life continued on as before, lawyers and professors simply failed to show up to appointments on account of having been picked up by the police. After a few days of silence, former Prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who earlier was willing to participate in a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, began challenging Musharraf and threatened mass protests, including a "long march" from the capital city Islamabad to the second biggest city in Pakistan, Lahore. It is not unreasonable to speculate that she may be arrested soon as well.

US support for Musharraf must be questioned for being part of a pattern by the US of supporting military dictatorships in Pakistan. Some commentators, including Vali Nasr from the Council on Foreign Relations, have compared Pakistan's situation with that of pre-revolutionary Iran, and one expert warns that the situation is "eerily similar" to Iran in the late 1970's, stating:

I'd also point out that what people forget about the Iranian revolution is that it wasn't originally just Khomeini and the Islamists. It was a broad coalition that included leftists, liberal democrats, student activists, religious moderates and radicals who all came together to overthrow the government. It took roughly a year from the time that protests began to the actual abdication of the Shah and another year before it became fully apparent that the government would be dominated by radical clerics, who weren't necessarily the most popular but were the best organized and most able to step into the breach. Similarly today we see a fractured society and tenuous dictatorship in Pakistan where pro democracy and Islamist forces are putting pressure on Musharraf whose hold on power is slowly weakening.

Recently, Joe Biden and Governor Richardson have also concurred with that assessment.

Putting aside the ethical problem of supporting autocrats, the fact is that Musharraf has not been a good ally in the war on terror. As I noted in my article at the Guardian:

Dictators are incapable of eliminating extremism. A dictatorship is afflicted with the original sin of having seized power with violence, and therefore has no moral authority to speak against those who employ violence. A dictatorship is bereft of the psychological calm that comes from being popularly elected and lives life like an anxious little demon, spraying bullets wildly, without aim or purpose.

Musharraf did not carry out reforms of the madrassa system; he killed those leaders who were keeping the Taliban at bay; he tried to appease militants by permitting them to implement Sharia; made alliances with pro-Taliban parties; and even, some experts note, engaged in crimes against humanity. Musharraf's remarkable failures in the anti-terrorist arena is at odds with Bush official John Negroponte's statement that Musharraf has been "indispensable." Indeed, Musharraf has been so successful as an anti-terrorist that he is now less popular in Pakistan than Osama Bin Laden (pdf).

As it stands right now, Musharraf had stated that he will allow elections on February 14, which in itself is illegal, as by law he was required to move towards elections by January 15. Further, there is full expectation by experts that these elections will be rigged.

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