At the end of the second day of Pakistan's state of emergency, one
thing is clear: it looks a lot like the martial law of old. Leading
what Pakistani journalists are now calling his "second coup d'etat,"
General Pervez Musharraf quickly shut down the electronic media, lined
the streets with soldiers, arrested opposition politicians, suspended
fundamental rights, fired the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court -
again - and left the country's political future in a state of crystal
Sad to say, Pakistan has lived through similar times with Musharraf,
and before him. Since the 1950s, the military has seized power many
times -- and between its bouts of direct governing, has exercised power
indirectly. Musharraf follows a long line of generals - Ayub Khan,
Yahya Khan, Zia ul Haq - who have taken the law, and the state, into
their own hands. Each one occasionally played games with politicians,
but none acted as though civilian - that is, political - leadership
meant much at all.
So when Musharraf talked of elections but refused to give up his job as
army chief, deported former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif,
negotiated (in a way) with People Party chair Benazir Bhutto but
declined to show his hand, sent his lawyers to court without obeying
judicial decisions, and refused to resolve important decisions about
future elections, he was following a long, ignoble tradition. You
could see disaster coming, miles away.
His Proclamation of Emergency is a sputtering, angry document. Its
catalogue of national woes - sectarianism, insurgency, terrorism --
reads, somehow, as if someone other than Musharraf has been in charge
for the past eight years - why else complain about declining, dangerous
conditions across the country?. It's also deliberately confusing.
Musharraf signed both the proclamation and the Provisional
Constitutional Order in his role as army chief - but will continue to
govern as president. So much for the court judgment that everyone -
and no one more that Musharraf -- had been awaiting, a ruling that may
well have disallowed his presidency because he kept his military job.
He's now stipulated his continuing, dual role. General, one; rule of
Whether by pique or principle, Musharraf has now frozen the one
institution that might have otherwise protected the basic rights of
Pakistan's citizens. His tangles with the Supreme Court this year - as
he tried to turn the judiciary into his personal property -- have
acquired the gloss of legend. The crusading Chief Justice, Iftikhar
Chaudhry, who was fired for challenging executive privilege (legally),
and then, in a dramatic moment, reinstated by the Supreme Judicial
Council, has now been deposed again. Seven of Chaudhry's colleagues
have refused to take a new oath of office (under the Provisional
Constitutional Order, which effectively cancels fundamental rights),
but others have agreed to serve even though the Constitution has been
placed - in a peculiar Pakistani parlance - "in abeyance." Under the
new rules, the courts can no longer take decisions against the
president or his government. Read the history of prior military
governments, and the pattern becomes clear. Score: General two, rule
of law, zero.
No doubt many politicians (or their families or colleagues) will
challenge the emergency in court. But the new court is unlikely to act
on those cases. This, too, echoes an unfortunate history. Pakistan's
courts - minus an occasional, brave judge -- are nothing if not
prudent. So they'll hear cases, but rule cautiously or wait until this
spate of emergency rule ends. That could be years from now, but if
history repeats itself, a day will come when the Supreme Court declares
the current emergency to be illegal. By then, the General will be
gone, and more damage - much of it close to irreparable - will have
been done. General three; rule of law, zero.
Every time an emergency is declared, politicians land up in jail or
under house arrest. This weekend's arrests include almost everyone in a
position of influence who has held an opinion contrary to the
government's. The firebrand chair of the Human Rights Commission of
Pakistan, Asma Jehangir - a civil rights lawyer who also represents the
United Nations on behalf of the victims of rights abuses - is now
behind bars. So is retired General Hamid Gul, former head of
Inter-Services Intelligence. His crime? Disagreeing with Musharraf
about Afghanistan policy. Leaders of Nawaz Sharif's party, former
cricket star Imran Khan (who heads his own small party), and members of
Bhutto's party have all been jailed. Aitzaz Ahsan - Bhutto's former
Interior Minister and lawyer, attorney for the former Chief Justice and
until this week, amicus curiae for a case against Musharraf -now needs
a lawyer, too. Under this emergency, a friend of the court, it seems,
can't be a friend of the government's. The greatest victim of this
emergency is, as too often in the past, the fundamental right to hold
an opinion. General four, rule of law, zero.
The result of this emergency is therefore . . . more of the same. It
turns out that Pakistan's ineffective, often self-defeating, mixed
governance system - where weak parliaments co-exist with soldiers,
intimidation and persecution are familiar and frequent, elections are
manipulated more often than not, the army controls significant portions
of the economy, and some parts of the country are at war with
themselves or the national army - will now to continue. The army will
have free reign to fight terror and militancy along the border - and
violate civil liberties in the process -- without any civilian
oversight. Elections may or may not be held - not this winter, surely,
perhaps not even in another year. Had they been held soon, they were
unlikely to be free or fair, anyway. General, five, rule of law, zero.
Is any of this for the best, as the General maintains? Not likely.
Rising violence within Pakistan, and along its borders, is as much a
consequence of bad governance as it is of international terrorism.
Bhutto - whose criticisms of Musharraf have been uncharacteristically
muted - has pointed out that you can't fight the absence of democracy
with more autocracy. She, and her PPP, therefore have an awkward
future ahead of them. On the one hand, she has not ruled out talks
with the military. On the other hand, many of her party members, some
of Nawaz Sharif's supporters, and the country's lawyers -- who have
been protesting government high-handedness for months now -- are
itching for a fight with the military. Given these divergences on
tactics and strategy, she and the odd bedfellows that comprise
Pakistan's political alliances - her closest ally may be one of the
mainstream religious parties -may not easily agree on their next steps.
Street protests may arise before political maps are drawn.
If there's disarray, Musharraf will use it to justify the state of
emergency, to Pakistanis and his benefactors abroad. This weekend, the
US has continued its strong support for the General, its subdued
complaints about anti-democratic actions notwithstanding. But there's
a rising current of dismay in Washington, particularly in Congress,
with the form and content of Musharraf's rule. By appropriating
complete control, Musharraf has placed his own performance in sharp
relief. If he doesn't deliver on the awkward promises embedded in his
emergency proclamation, neither he nor anyone else - in Pakistan or
elsewhere -- will have anyone to blame but himself. That's when the
rule of law might just score a point.