Posted by: Staff | 11.29.2007

Musharraf’s moves a step back for democracy in Pakistan


On November 3, General Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, imposed statewide emergency rule. He explained it as a necessary move in the fight against terrorism. Musharraf suspended the constitution; ordered Pakistani police to patrol the streets of the capitol, Islamabad; censored the media; and ordered the arrests of over a thousand people, among them human rights activists, political oppositionists, lawyers, independent news reporters and even teachers.

Musharraf, in addition to being the president of Pakistan, was also the army?s Chief of Staff. He had promised to relinquish his ties to the military before November 15, when he was expected to take oath of office for a third five-year term. Under the constitution, Musharraf couldn?t run for another term while serving both as president and as a military leader. In an interview three months ago, General Musharraf said that his army uniform was his second skin: ?How can I possibly take it off?? Some speculate that the declaration of emergency is tied to rumors that the court was planning to rule against Musharraf. More recently, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry reported that the Supreme Court believed that Musharraf had no power to suspend the constitution

Musharraf has dismissed several independent-minded judges, including Chaudhry, from the Supreme Court. Musharraf told the Associated Press last week that he expected the new court to quickly endorse his re-election, and he was right. Last Wednesday, Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum said that Musharraf would quit his army post and be sworn in for a third term.

Government officials have reiterated that the declaration of emergency was necessary in the country?s fight against terrorism and that it would not derail Pakistan?s progress toward democracy. The chief election commissioner has confirmed that parliamentary and provincial assembly elections will be held on January 8, 2008. ?[Musharraf] has vowed to ?do his utmost? to end emergency rule before elections in January,? says United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister who favors democratic rule in Pakistan and who had hoped to be reelected in January, strongly opposes Musharraf?s recent course of action. She led hundreds of people in a demonstration outside Parliament on November 7. At a news conference, Bhutto encouraged the people of Pakistan to join the movement against Musharraf?s emergency rule. Since then, Bhutto has been placed under house arrest and authorities have barricaded her street.

Bhutto has urged western governments to pressure Musharraf to discontinue what Bhutto calls a ?military dictatorship.? The United States, Britain, France and other concerned nations have responded and are urging Musharraf to lift the emergency declaration and return to a constitutional government.

During a phone conversation with Musharraf, President George Bush said, ?The United States wants you to have the elections as scheduled, and I want you to take the uniform off.? The United States is Pakistan?s most important ally and the U.S. has not yet taken steps beyond criticizing Musharraf because anything more might disrupt the partnership with Pakistan in fighting Al Qaeda.

The United States is not the only ally whose support Pakistan stands to lose. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in agreement with the United States, also expressed his concern to Musharraf about the state of emergency. The Netherlands has put economic sanctions in place, freezing millions of dollars in financial aid that they had agreed to give to Pakistan. Britain has said that they are reviewing their aid to Pakistan and may withdraw their support if Musharraf continues to impose martial law. Also, the 53-nation Commonwealth suspended Pakistan from its group, calling the situation in Pakistan ?a serious violation of the Commonwealth?s fundamental political values.? This decision is an embarrassment but it does not carry any economic sanctions.

In recent days Musharraf’s regime has released more than 3,400 people who had been detained. In addition to stepping down from his army post, Musharraf has promised that elections will be held in January. Perhaps most importantly, he has promised to end emergency rule on December 16. Musharraf?s recent actions demonstrate that he is listening and responding to the Pakistani people and the international community. One can only hope that from here on, Musharraf can redeem himself and lead Pakistan toward democracy.

Sources and Further Reading:
US Aims to Restructure Aid to Pakistan (New York Times)
World reconsiders Pakistan aid (CNN)
Pakistan under martial law (CNN)


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