Demands of Pakistan's Solidarity By Nasim Zehra
The News, November 07, 2007
The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst
The writing is on the wall. At this juncture the numbers may not be large but public rejection and resistance to General Pervez Musharraf's imposition of martial law is growing. Despite the unrelenting crackdown by the State machinery to prevent all forms of protest public defiance is on the rise. The more the State applies coercive force the more it accentuates public anger. They know its 'dictatorship on a roll.' That must be stopped at all costs. It is now just basic cause and effect cycle that is at work. The otherwise docile peaceful educated middle class is bracing itself to face the increasing State repression. If the March 9 dismissal of the Chief Justice of Pakistan was a trigger for political activism for the lawyer community, the November 3 imposition of technical martial law is the trigger for the a much wider scale of political activism.
No matter what the Musharraf regime may call the November 3 action, it is martial law. Violating the constitutional process used for imposition of the PCO, Pakistan's army chief chose to declare emergency himself. The calculation must have been that the use of the term 'emergency' and use of the civilian law enforcement forces would dilute international opposition to his move to take Pakistan off the democratic path. Also by giving martial law a civilian facade General Musharraf and his advisors may have hoped to keep the army leadership out of the 'firing line' of public resentment. But Pakistanis are hardened realists. With a decade of free media, the growing realization that unaccountable power is at the core of the dysfunctional state and of continuing political turmoil and violence, their political senses cannot be blunted by facades and propaganda.
We cannot let our country be at the mercy of an individual's whims. The terrorism excuse for imposing martial law would have been amusing had it not been actually adversely affecting the future of a 160 million-strong nuclear-armed nation with tremendous strategic significance and unlimited economic potential. Equally preposterous is the argument that the judiciary's attitude made martial law inevitable.
General Musharraf said, while announcing suspending the Constitution, that a series of decisions during the past year have set terrorists free, demoralized law enforcement officials and undermined the government. Incase the government had problems it could have filed petitions against the judgments. But the fact is that the protesting general Musharraf himself has administered fresh oath under the PCO to two of the three-judge bench that had ruled against the government and in favor of the Lal Masjid accused. Also the regime's decision reportedly to free two dozen militants in exchange for over 100 security men drives holes in its arguments against the judiciary for ordering the release of individuals who the regime claimed undermined national security. Clearly if the state could find justification to release those it claims were militant, the judiciary has reason to release those against whom the state could not provide sufficient evidence.
But the strongest defense of the judiciary on the anti-terrorism question was that indeed it was emerging as an institution which seemed to be striking a balance between the agencies rounding up suspects without sufficient evidence and those who argued that all the government's actions in the tribal areas etc were illegal and only targeting innocents. But clearly the government failed to understand these nuances, which indeed are necessary to pursue any viable approach to ensuring return of internal security.
The motivating fear was that the judiciary will rule General Musharraf's candidacy unconstitutional. The truth is that for weeks now there was panic in the ranks of the regime. Various strategies to rein in the judiciary, ranging from civil administration's disobedience against the judiciary to reducing the tenure of Supreme Court judges to forcing them to take fresh oath under the PCO, were being discussed. The irony is that less facts and more 'unholy fears' of what the judiciary may do to his candidature, is what prompted the illogical and illegal move of Nov. 3.
Musharraf's decision was largely but not unanimously supported. The presidential camp was divided as one of General Musharraf's key aides, chief of staff Lieutenant-General (retired) Javed Hamid and National Security Council adviser Tariq Aziz vehemently opposed the move. The vice-chief remained neutral while the intelligence chiefs reportedly sought "decisive leadership" from their army chief. Within his civilian political camp of the nearly 25 attending the Oct. 31 meeting at the prime minister's house, only three opposed the option of imposition of emergency. But none of the three took strong action like resigning from the ruling party. The prime minister, the PML-Q president and the Punjab chief minister were solidly behind the decision to impose what is technically martial law. General Musharraf has after all provided these three men political oxygen. At least the two of them have banked on him for prime ministership in 2008. Even the CENTCOM chief and the US ambassador during their November 2 meeting with Musharraf opposed his decision to impose emergency.
While internal resistance continues some Pakistanis are hoping that Washington will facilitate the end of the martial law. The US president has already urged him to end the emergency, shed off his uniform as soon as possible and hold elections. Washington still hopes general Musharraf will retrace his steps lead Pakistan's transition and remain their ally. All the phone calls are urging him to back track. Obviously Washington's paramount concerns regarding Pakistan remain linked to Pakistan army's ability to play an effective role in fighting al-Qaeda within Pakistan and internationally. Democracy is of concern only insofar as it helps or hinders the Pakistan army to play that role. Now that in the post-March period even a blind bat can also recognize that without democracy political turmoil in Pakistan will only augment.
Washington is hoping General Musharraf can manage political recovery. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates candidly spelt the bottom-line on the Bush administration's post --November Pakistan policy. "We are reviewing all of our assistance programs, although we are mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counterterrorism efforts," he said on November 5. Until now Washington has viewed Musharraf as the centrepiece of its international 'war on terrorism.' The Bush administration with foreign policy disasters on its hands, is desperately trying to save/ salvage from its Pakistan's policy. As a US policy analyst recently wrote: "They are on the Musharraf tiger, they're not going to try to steer it, the policy is one of hope that Benazir and Musharraf will do a deal." After November 3, Benazir's political survival will not allow her to support general Musharraf's politics.
Given post-November 3 developments, General Musharraf's eligibility as the one to lead the transition is over. He has demonstrated time and again that he will deal at will, any potential challenge to his authority and position. He throws the Constitution out at will, breaks his promises at will, junks citizens' rights at will and rubbishes the media at will. He insists he does all this in the 'national interest'. But the season for dictatorship in Pakistan is over. And permanently. We now know through repeated blundering decisions by military and civilian rulers that collective wisdom which is exercised within the discipline of the Constitutional framework can lead us forward.
Meanwhile whatever Washington and others may be planning, as always, the task of political reform within Pakistan is primarily ours. There was a movement we launched in the post-March era, the movement for rule of law and for Constitutional democracy. We cannot let the movement, however nascent demanding rule of law be rolled back. And neither can we let what we have rolled back of unilateralism in the exercise of power roll forward.
For Pakistanis the ultimate is at stake -- Pakistan's solidarity. The imposition of this technical martial law will further weaken the State institutions especially civil and military law enforcement and security institutions. Those in power who are clearly blinded either by the urge to stay in power or by 'good intentions', are unable to face this obvious fact. It is time that the regime's blind men must go. We need to face our challenges with open eyes.
What next? The only way forward towards a democratic, secure and stable Pakistan is to adopt the following seven steps immediately: 1. Immediate restoration of the Constitution. 2. Immediate reinstatement of all the judges of the Supreme Court and High Court judges. 3. Reopening of all independent TV channels. 4. Dissolution of all the assemblies as per schedule in November and setting up of a credible non-controversial interim government. 5. A general amnesty and return of all political leaders including Baloch leaders to Pakistan. 6. Holding of an All-Parties Conference with all mainstream political leaders on a two-point agenda; to agree on a code of conduct to hold fair and free and to agree on a political cum security strategy to end growing internal violence and terrorism. 7. Holding of general elections no later than February 2007. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org