Pakistan's Political Crisis And Musharraf's Desperation

The anti-Musharraf agitation spear-headed by Chaudhary has transformed the national landscape and infused a new spirit in the people

Even though people's mobilization over the judicial crisis has exposed Gen. Pervez Musharraf's political incompetence, as Kargil conflict proved his military shortcoming, he shows no sign of making amends by responding to the people's yearning for change and return to full democracy and civilian rule. When the nation was mourning the killing of 41 Karachi citizens at the hands of his goons, who prevented sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary from entering Pakistan's largest city and addressing a gathering of lawyers and others, he was bold enough to announce that he was hell bent on getting re-elected President for another five-year term by the existing national and provincial legislatures and there was no escape possible for Pakistan from the military boots. This further strengthened the feeling that the Pakistani masses will never be the masters of their destiny.

The anti-Musharraf agitation spear-headed by Chaudhary has transformed the national landscape and infused a new spirit in the people, which the General and his cronies, who depend on him for survival and have amassed huge fortunes refuse to acknowledge. For the Pakistani military ruler it has been a cruel spring in which he stands guilty of several miscalculations. But, buttressed by the firm support he continues to receive from the United States, which wants him in office to implement a bagful of strategic plans for the region and remain a staunch and dependable military ally, Musharraf feels secure in his place and is obligated to provide military support to whatever the U.S. and NATO decides for the region.

Musharraf has assured the King's party (PML-Q) and his Islamist collaborators under the umbrella of Muttahida Majis-e-Amal that he will not cut any deal with former premiers Benezir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif which will displace them from positions of power they now hold. The Musharraf-Mullah nexus has carved Pakistan into their respective spheres of influence and the MMA has been enabled to rule in NWFP and Balochistan provinces in exchange for continued support for him as the country's powerful president. Whether he will give up his Army uniform before seeking re-election as President later this year is only a matter of semantics. He will silence the opposition by doing so and appointing a chosen and loyal general as Army Chief, who will obey him and do his bidding. As a powerful President and supreme commander of the armed forces, Musharraf will continue to wield ultimate power and ensure that the necessary military support is provided to US and NATO plans for the region, whether in Afghanistan, Iran or elsewhere. However much Washington may talk about return to civilian rule in Pakistan, it may not trust a civilian head of government who wants the Army to return to barracks and remain subservient to a civilian Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

What has shaken the conscience of the Pakistanis during the current agitation is that the establishment did not hesitate to provoke inter-ethnic riots in Karachi in order to prevent Iftikhar Chaudhary from entering the city. The Government's intelligence agencies and police, through their paid agents, provoked the Muttahida Quami Movement goons to attack the Pushtuns living in the city, which resulted in a major conflagration that left 41 officially killed and over 200 wounded. The Government provoked ethnic clashes without the slightest though to their wider and long-tern ramifications. The use of violence by government has failed to cow down agitated masses. Their reliance on armed groups to provoke riots, commit murders and instill fear among opposition workers betrays a sign of desperation. The Karachi riots have made the people wonder if the present rulers have lost hope of retaining in power through legitimate constitutional means and are prepared to do anything to stay in office.

Gen. Musharraf is obviously trying to settle scores with the top judiciary which has overturned some government orders and issued notices to the state on disappearances of hundreds of political activities rounded up by the police and other agencies. The very first step is to seek removal of the Chief Justice was inspired by political motives. The legal community, civil society and political opposition, alienated by past assaults on the judiciary's independence have rightly interpreted the move as driven by political considerations. When Iftikhar Chaudhary addressed the Lahore Bar, among his audience were 17 sitting judges of the court, the entire fraternity of lawyers and thousands others, who had been waiting for him overnight. Gen. Musharraf and his cronies live with the illusion that they can control the situation and continue to survive with a manufactured legitimacy. They, perhaps, believe that the opposition can be intimated by unleashing terror or distorting the Constitution which Musharraf has changed beyond recognition to legitimize all that he has done and to bestow on himself unlimited power. But, they seem to have learnt nothing from history.

A wrong impression was sought to be created by the official media that Karachi has witnessed clashes between pro-and anti-Musharraf protesters. The fact is that the government agencies provoked clashes between the MQM and Pushtoon activists, both defending their home turf. The MQM, which now shares power in the Sindh Province, is the most organized violent force in Sindh. With a following exclusively of non-Punjabi migrants from India in the wake of the 1947 partition of the sub-continent, it has felt discriminated against by successive regimes and has zealously guarded its constituency in Karachi. In the city of 16 million the various ethnic groups ? Mohajirs, Pushtuns, Sindhis, Balochs and Punjabis - have lived in a perpetual state of war and used violence to guard their exclusive zones to prevent encroachment by others. The Mohajirs came into the streets in their own defence in the face of attacks by Pushtuns organized by the official agencies. They did not shoot in defence of Gen. Musharraf, but of their home turf. The Government achieved the purpose of creating chaos in the city for three days and preventing Iftikhar Chaudhary from addressing lawyers and the people there.

When the lawyers took to the streets in defence of freedom of the judiciary and rule of law, Musharraf unleashed the police to give a display of wanton savagery. Heads and limbs were broken and teargas was used in a spirit of abandon rarely witnessed. Extra-constitutional regimes have often tried to protect themselves by denouncing politics as a law and order problem if it belongs to the opposition. The military ruler forgets that every public grievance involving day-to-day problems or violation of human rights and disappearance of people in the hands of government agencies, or the use of the axe on the neck of the judiciary is political in nature and no pretext can deny the people their right to ventilate them through any means available to them. In Pakistan, Gen. Musharraf has banned political rallies generally, except those organized by the King's Party to congratulate him on his achievements.

It is, perhaps, for the first time in the history of Pakistan that the Chief Justice episode shows that the judiciary has been trying to assert its independence vis-?-vis the executive, which has acquired unprecedented powers under the patronage of the military. Under the Commonwealth principles, as reiterated by the British Government, Pakistan is morally and politically bound to ensure and respect the separation of powers and independence of action between the three branches of government ? the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The Chief Justice had taken notice of several issues which were never legislated upon. Perhaps, he took Gen. Musharraf too seriously because the latter has been talking good things like "moderate Islam", the rule of law, social development etc, (mostly for the consumption of foreign aid givers in cash and military equipment) while issuing suo moto notices to the Government to remind it of its promises.

Obviously, the removal of a non-pliant Chief Justice is meant to send a message to the world that in an election year, the President wants to ensure that there is no threat to his plans to get re-elected in uniform and also win the parliamentary election for the ruling party he himself created, so that everything continues as at present. The emasculated mainstream parties ? PPP and PML(N) ? will also be allowed a chance, but their leaders will not be allowed to contest as that will upset Musharraf's applecart. Those Pakistani's who put faith in President Bush's "spreading democracy" sermons and exhortation to the military regime in Pakistan to restore full democracy, also seem to have lost hope. The fundamental question whether Pakistan is to remain a praetorian or democratic state remains unanswered. Pakistanis seem destined to suffer under "cantonment colonialism"

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