Emergency in Pakistan: A Political Meltdown

As a Pakistani, whose nation exists today in a state of emergency (and the constitution stands suspended), I am indeed upset, worried, and afraid of what is next. General Musharraf is, as a friend puts it, in a kar lo jo kar na hai (do what ever you want but I am here to stay) mode where he seems to be going about the country’s business like a mad bull in a china shop. As an outsider it appears that he and the government under him are breaking all rules, thinking that once all bones of this democratic society are broken they will somehow miraculously heal themselves right.

Is that true? I cannot tell, but it is a pity that while one can say good or bad things about General Musharraf’s control of the government, we still do not seem to have any clear alternatives that can warrant support. The official reason for the imposition of the emergency rule (i.e. mini martial law) is the increase in terrorist activity within Pakistan and the political pandemonium, but I doubt even he believes he can sell this to the nation. The real reason, I think, is that General Musharraf feels nobody else can fix this country – certainly not the corrupt, mostly illiterate and opportunist, politicians. So he feels he has to take control in one form or another if there is any hope to set the country on the right path. I question though if this high handed approach is a big part of the problem, and not the solution.

I strong resent the imposition of the emergency in Pakistan – whether one likes Musharraf’s policies or not. Panic has set in and it will take a long time for the nation to recover from this. For now, it is not more than just another tactic to stay in power, oppress the freedom of speech, and to heavy handedly silence the opposing voices in the society. Musharraf has laid out a good set of arguments for doing so – but it is not resonating with the times and the society he lives in.

But as I oppose the emergency rule now, I also openly admit that when Musharraf took control in Oct 1999 I did support him and wrote in his favor. At that time I was the President of the MIT’s Pakistani Students Society and wrote the following in the university newspaper The Tech. I am amazed how familiar the charges back then against Nawaz Sharif (then prime-minister) now sound similar to what is being practiced by General Musharraf himself.

The Pakistan Coup’s Other Side
Guest Column
Bilal Zuberi

Recently, a lot has been published in the Western press about the military coup in Pakistan. Most of the press coverage tends to give the impression that the country has been taken over by a ruthless band of military commanders, and the lives and liberties of ordinary civilians are threatened. On the contrary, it seems that a large majority of Pakistanis, in Pakistan and abroad, have welcomed the coup. There have been no large public protests or demonstrations in support of the ousted government.

Pakistani intellectuals and journalists belonging to many disparate camps are writing in favor of the military coup. The people of Pakistan are viewing the new leadership as a refreshing alternative to the elected but inept and corrupt governments of the recent past. The new military government has provided a beacon of hope to the people.

The Western media, in its sensational stereotyping of the coup, has largely ignored what the Pakistani people feel about the military takeover. Nawaz Sharif, the ousted prime minister, was elected in 1996. His party enjoyed an overall majority in the parliament. He had the golden opportunity to bring prosperity to the nation. Instead, Nawaz Sharif used the parliamentary majority to increase his power and his wealth, and in the process destroyed all institutions of checks and balances that are indispensible to any democracy. He introduced amendments in the constitution which made it illegal for any party member to express an opinion different from his or her party’s official policy.

Thus, voices of dissension from within his party were effectively strangled. When the Supreme Court was hearing cases of corruption against Nawaz Sharif, he had his party workers stormed the Supreme Court while it was in session, in order to disrupt the proceedings and the Chief Justice was soon sacked by Nawaz Sharif. Pakistan’s President was forced to submit his resignation. The fate of the former chief of the army was similar to that of the President.

Nawaz Sharif did not stop there. He started to sow the seeds of dissension in the higher echelons of the armed forces so as to render it ineffective as a check on his ambitions. Sharif sacked the current army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, while Gen. Musharraf was on a flight back from Sri Lanka. His plane was not even allowed to land in Pakistan — a step that endangered the lives of nearly 300 passengers traveling on the commercial flight.

Since its independence, Pakistan has been through several cycles of democracy and military rule. Nearly 25 of its 52 years of independence were spent under martial law and military dictatorship. These dictatorships were accompanied by systematic repression of dissent and the subordination of civil liberties and the freedom of press. Partly due to the repeated interventions by the army, and partly as a result of the misgovernance by the democratically elected governments, democratic institutions in the country have largely remained undeveloped.

In the last few years, the political scene in Pakistan has been dominated by Benazir Bhutto’s People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League. Each political party was elected to power twice, and removed from office when corruption, nepotism, and misgovernance became so prevalent that it endangered the survival of the state. Over the years, the hopes of the Pakistani people for democracy have been replaced with disillusionment and despair.

At present, the military government is a change for the better from the corrupt and self-serving political leaderships. Only the military has the strength to confront tax evaders and loan defaulters, and maintain fair and impartial accountability across the board. General Musharraf also supports devolution of political power to the grass-roots level, freedom of press and information, protection of minority rights, improved relations with India, and suitable reforms needed to strengthen the democratic institutions and prepare the path for democracy.

While his policies provide a glimmer of hope, history has taught us to be cautious — in the past, military rulers in Pakistan have tended to stay in power much longer than necessary. It is hoped that General Musharraf will carry out his reforms and then make way for a democratically elected government.

As the last para shows every Pakistani, including myself, feared what would happen if this General also became a power-hog like the last General (Zia ul Haq) who the nation got rid of only when his plane blew up in mid-air. What if General Musharraf did not leave the scene quickly after setting the house right, setting up institutional frameworks for a long term change, and handing over powers to the non-corrupt politicians? We knew that military has a habit of staying on too long in control, whether they are a part of the solution or the problem itself, and as history has shown us now, our fears were not misplaced.

When General Musharraf took control by force in 1999, he spoke vehemently about the silent majority that supposedly supported him wholeheartedly that did not come to the streets when he took over. Today, as his military and government cracks down on the media and journalists, he appears to be bent on silencing the very same silent majority. He stands alone today,completely disconnected from the nation on whom he rules, and surrounded by a cacophony of corrupt incoherent politicians, desperate imported technocrats and a now weakened military.

I want to highlight something that Adil usrecently wrote on Pakistaniat. It rings so true… I am watching intently how these two pillars of a democratic future of Pakistan (Judiciary and the Media) will react in the upcoming days and months.

We have also written before that Pakistan is a democratic society trapped inside an undemocratic state and that we are living through Pakistan’s moment of democratic struggle. Perversely, the events of the last days have again proved this thesis. The reason that Gen. Musharraf has to apply increasingly more draconian measures to hold on to power is precisely because society is progressively unprepared to maintain a patently undemocratic order. This is precisely why the targets of this current action are the two forces that have emerged as the most vibrant and important custodians of the nation’s democratic spirit: the judiciary and the media. With politicians, who seem far less interested in real democracy, you can always cut deals; less so, it seems, with the spirit of justice and free speech!

Finally, let me highlight that this political meltdown that occurred in the past 2 days has not been an overnight event. We knew something akin to it was coming – the writing was on the wall and our blog Pakistaniat had predicted and discussed it all along. Let me provide you with one-blogs-view-of-the-chronology-of-meltdown (i.e. Pakistaniat). Click on the links to learn more about the events and what Pakistanis on our forum had to say about them as they happened.

Aug. 26, 2006: Nawab Akbar Bugti Killed.
Sep. 10, 2006: Spreading Lies.
Sep. 14, 2006: Monitoring Friday Sermons by Police.
Sep. 25, 2006: Rumors of an Internal Coup Cause Frenzy in Pakistan.
Sep 30, 2006: Who is Giving Pakistan a Bad Name?
Oct. 1, 2006: Grading Gen. Musharraf: A Performance Review.
Oct. 16, 2006: Democracy in Action?
Nov. 2, 2006: The Cost of Milk and Being a Lakh Patti.
Nov. 8, 2006: Allotment of Expensive Plots for Bureaucrats.
Nov. 16, 2006: The Politics of the Women’s Rights Bill.
Nov. 18, 2006: Will the MMA Resign? And if so, then what?
Nov. 21, 2006: Another Journalist Disappears in Pakistan.
Dec. 15, 2006: Supreme Court Blocks Hasba Bill.
Dec. 28, 2006: Brutally Shameful.
Dec. 31, 2006: Cost of Living: Inflation 2006?
Jan 5, 2007: The Politics of Politics.
Jan. 26, 2007: Insecurity: Suicide Blast at Marriott Islamabad.
Feb. 21, 2007: Mad Anger: Woman Minister Murdered.
Mar. 4, 2007: Kidney Hill, Karachi: The Battle Heats Up.
Mar. 7, 2007: PTCL Fumbles a Censorship Extravaganza.
Mar. 9, 2007: President Removes Chief Justice. Why?
Mar. 12, 2007: Shameful. Distressing. Disturbing.
Mar. 13, 2007: Law Minister Wasi Zafar Misbehaving on VOA.
Mar 15, 2007: Kamran Khan Show on Geo Banned.
Mar. 23, 2007: Celebrating the Democratic Spirit.
Apr. 7, 2007: Lal Masjid Assault on Islamabad.
Apr. 18, 2007: Sahil Bachao: The Battle for Karachi’s Waterfront.
Apr. 27, 2007: Benazir Musharraf Deal.
May 4, 2007: Jahalat: Polio Vaccine Campaign Facing Threats.
May 7, 2007: ATP at the Supreme Court Today.
May 12, 2007: Karachi Burning: Clashes, Firing, Violence, Deaths.
May 12, 2007: ATP Goes to Lal Masjid.
June 1, 2007: Military Inc. Causes Waves in Pakistan.
June 2, 2007: Electronic Media Under Siege in Pakistan.
June 4, 2007: Pakistan Cracks Down on TV News Channels.
June 7, 2007: Will there be Elections in Pakistan in 2007?
June 9, 2007: CJP Crisis: Where is Pakistan’s Prime Minister?
June 23, 2007: Lal Masjid Storm Chinese Massage Parlor.
July 3, 2007: Colateral Benefits: Judicial Assertiveness in Pakistan.
July 3, 2007: ‘Operation Silence’ Against Lal Masjid Islamabad.
July 10, 2007: The Gun Battle at Lal Masjid.
July 17, 2007: Suicide Bomber Targets Lawyers Rally.
July 20. 2007: Supreme Court Reinstates the Chief Justice.
July 27, 2007: The Battle for Lal Masjid Continues.
Aug. 8, 2007: Emergency Being Declared in Pakistan? But Why?
Aug. 23, 2007: Supreme Court: Nawaz Sharif Can Return to Pakistan.
Sep. 4, 2007: Bomb Blasts in Rawalpindi: Pakistan at War.
Sep. 14, 2007: Taliban and Extremists at War Against Pakistan.
Sep. 21, 2007: Manipulated Elections: Karr lo jo karna hai.
Sep. 26, 2007: Can we disagree without being disagreeable?
Sep. 29, 2007: Disturbing Images from Islamabad.
Oct. 6, 2007: Musharraf Gets Votes, But Loses Big Time.
Oct. 10, 2007: Emerging Shape of Pakistan Politics.
Oct. 18, 2007: More than 100 Dead… And Benazir Returns.
Oct. 19, 2007: The Midnight Attack.
Oct. 21, 2007: The Doctrine of Necessity.
Nov. 3, 2007: Emergency Declared in Pakistan.

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5 Responses to Emergency in Pakistan: A Political Meltdown

  1. LEE says:

    The arguments you make are very similar to my own. I agree that this kind of political crisis has been looming for quite some time, and I do not agree with the way that the President is handling things. He is acting as a military dictator desperate for control. I agreed with your statement “it is not more than a tactic to stay in power, oppress the freedom of speech, and to heavy handedly silence the opposing voices in the society.” While this is a very strong opinion, I agree that Musharraf declared the state of emergency as a political move to gain more power and control over Pakistan. I also wanted to highlight your comment about how “he stands alone today, completely disconnected from the nation on whom he rules.” The fact that, along with the general public, the former Prime Minister has also expressed her opposition to Musharraf’s actions, which shows that he will not have much support with his endeavors. I enjoyed reading your post and I look forward to following your blog as this situation unfolds.

  2. Waqar says:

    Some observations, might be of some interest

    1. Mr Bhutto the most popular leader in the history of Pakistan after Quaid-e-Azam was hanged till death after a revolt by General Zia ul Haq, he had started working on Islamic idealogy, use of oil as a weapon, uniting Muslim world, development of Nuclear Program of Pakistan, logical conclusions?

    (i) No matter how important a leader is, in Pakistan he can be hanged.
    (ii) No matter how important internationally any leader is, he can be sentenced to death without taking care of any international pressure from brother muslim countries.
    (iii) No matter how important a leader might be for Pakistan in long term, he can be sacked anytime.

    (Nothing happened to so called civil society of Pakistan)

    2. Musharaf openly staged a coup against elected Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr Nawaz Shareef, exiled him, he was even man handled. What were logical conclusions?

    (i) There is no worth of opinion of people.
    (ii) Even an elected Prime Minister is inferior to a General
    (iii) Might is right, that is the only criterion to be followed in Pakistan.

    (Nothing happened to so called civil society of Pakistan)

    3. Pakistan took the most critical U-Turn of its history by deciding to support USA against Afgahnistan. What were outcomes?

    (i) Concept of Islamic Brotherhood, Nishat e Sania.
    (ii) Left radical Ismaic Militants whom our own forces and government along with US government have been supporting.
    (iii) Gave United States the chance to sit in our neighbour and interference in our matters which can de-stabilize Pakistan anytime.

    (Nothing happened to so called Civil Society of Pakistan)

    4. Next most crucial step was U-Turn on Kashmir Policy, what were outcomes?

    (i) Literally betrayed Kashmiri freedom fighters.
    (ii) Stopped all sort of moral and diplomatic support even to those people who were fighting for us.
    (iii) Bowed in front of India the most emotional stand point for people of Pakistan

    (Nothing happened to so called civil society of Pakistan)

    5. I believe imposing emergency, enforcing PCO, sacking judges is not worse than complete abolishment of constitution of Pakistam, hanging a leader to death, forcing a popular leader to exile, leaving concept of Islamic brotherhood, leaving stance on Kashmiri struggle, helping US in killing afghanis

    Where from has civil society of Pakistan emerged suddenly?

    What a revolution!
    Within rule of a military ruler we matured so much as a nation that we were able to produce a civil society of our own, which can influence decisions of power players?

    Hats off to all those who think some civil society indeed exists in Pakistan, if it does credit has to be given to Musharaf and his government, the mile-stone which no democratic or dictator leader we able to give to people of Pakistan, that was achieved in rule of General Musharaf.

    Please open your eyes, dont be part of a mob being funded and motivated by people with some vested interests. Where from all these banners, slogans, media coverage, reports coming?? I didnt see anyone gathering funds for such activities.

    Even now if conditions change and US starts needing Musharaf again, there will absolutely no civil society in Pakistan again.

    Please read these lines again

    4. I believe imposing emergency, enforcing PCO, sacking judges is not worse than complete abolishment of constitution of Pakistam, hanging a leader to death, forcing a popular leader to exile, leaving concept of Islamic brotherhood, leaving stance on Kashmiri struggle, helping United States in killing afghanis.

    Where from has civil society of Pakistan emerged suddenly?

    Regards

  3. A great informative and eye-opening article as well as discussion.

    keep it up.

  4. Jac says:

    Wishing you a very happy and prosperous new year !

  5. Jack.Jnr says:

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