Sunday, November 04, 2007

Off-topic: What will be the cost of one General's ambition?

Yes, this is off-topic, but being from Pakistan, it is hard not to say anything about yesterday’s events. Musharraf has now imposed emergency in Pakistan. This is supposedly not a full-fledged martial law and it focuses only on the judicial system and the media – the two groups that have been the most vocal opposition to Musharraf. So like any other despot, he has taken the decision to replace most of the Supreme Court justices that have given decision against the government and have banned the media from criticizing the government.
Any criticism of the head of state, members of the armed services and any other senior member of government is banned.

Anyone breaking these rules faces a three-year jail term and a 10 million rupee ($167,000) fine.

Now this is the way to run a successful government - if you say otherwise, you will end up in jail (only for 3 years).

His justification for these steps: the Supreme Court was hindering in the working of the government (for giggles or tears, you can read the full text of emergency here) . Yes, he is right. Checks and balances really screw up the “absolute” power of the government. However, there is a more naked reason for his actions: the Supreme Court was about to issue a ruling on the legality of his election as a President.

So how are things shaping up? Currently, there is a blackout of news in Pakistan. The transmission of private television stations has been blocked and state television is providing the only version of events in there. Fortunately, Dubai-based Pakistani channels are still broadcasting to the international community.

The problem is that Pakistan is indeed facing a serious threat of extremism. There have been several suicide bombings in the last few months and the areas bordering Afghanistan are in an open rebellion. Most people in Pakistan, especially in major cities, are also terrified of these developments. However, instead of taking these moderates into confidence, Musharraf has spent all of his political capital (and all of state machinations available to him) on making sure that he is in power. His political actions have created resentment against the army amongst the educated, middle-class Pakistanis – his natural allies in the fight against the Taliban elements of the northwest. This was particularly evident in the lawyer’s movement against Musharraf this past summer.

So what will be the impact of today’s events? It is still too early to tell. There is going to be pressure from the US and the EU (the only two places that have any influence on Musharraf’s actions). It also appears that the Supreme Court judges will not go without a fight. While Musharraf sent out the emergency order, an 8-member Supreme Court panel issued a judgment nullifying the emergency order.

The key issue is that the fight against the Taliban cannot be won without the political will of moderate Pakistanis. Without a proper political ally, the military cannot subdue violence in the northern areas. Now the hopes for free and fair elections have receded completely and there is a good chance that resentment against the army (already at an all time high) will only increase in the coming months in all sections of the population. This unity of opposition against the army will provide a good opportunity for Taliban-style extremists to enhance their influence in Pakistan.

How much will Pakistanis have to pay for the power ambition of one man? The next couple of months will give us some hint. And it will not just be Pakistan. The location of Pakistan - between China, India, Afghanistan, and Iran – with its population of 160 million, ensures that the international community will also end up paying a high price for the hubris of one General. that I have blown some steam over this issue, we can return to science & religion.


hedge said...

He's really gone off the deep end, hasn't he? How can you want to rule something so badly that you will destroy it instead of letting it go?

Salman Hameed said...

Yes, and the proper way to define this is "hubris". Musharraf thinks that he is only one who knows what is right, and thus he will do anything and everything to keep himself in power.

Lately, I have been listening to the Teaching company lectures on the great battles of the ancient world. What can be a better example of hubris than this: In 482BC, the Persian king, Xerxes ordered the sea at Hellespont to be whipped 300 times and scolded verbally after a storm destroyed the two bridges he was trying to build (oh and yes, he also beheaded those in charge of building the bridge). Now this is cool hubris! Musharraf hasn't gone as far (yet) :)

Matthew said...

How is Benazir Bhutto playing this (if anyone outside the news blackout can find out)?

Does the popular response in Pakistan suggest people got tired of this after Zia ul Haq? He deposed Sharif years ago, though....

Salman Hameed said...

Well...Bhutto today announced that her party is going to stage a protest on Friday, unless the emergency is suspended. It is hard to tell what her intentions are. There are no demands from her about Musharraf stepping down from the Presidency.

However, she does have the power to hold mass protests. As far as I understand, Musharraf cannot simply suspend emergency without giving him some legal cover for his actions. That can only come from the parliament and even then he needs 2/3 majority to approve of his actions. Thats what makes Friday deadline interesting. But I think nobody knows how things will play out in Pakistan in the next couple of days, let alone couple of weeks. I'm sure it is exciting at least for political scientists...

Matthew said...

Well, it appears Musharraf has the full support of the military, so any "legal cover" would just be a fig leaf anyway. Is the recently announced "February election" going to calm things, do you think?

The links to news and protest blogs in Pakistan are pretty neat. They seem to be popping up a lot whenever there are conflicts where media is either suppressed or can't get into a warzone (Iraq, Israel-Lebanon, Myanmar) I wonder if blogspot and the others ever figured they'd be the new Samizdat?

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