Monday, March 12, 2007

Protests in Pakistan

I felt a sense of pride in the strong response today from Pakistan's civil society to Musharraf's outrageous sacking of the Supreme Court Chief Justice. Led by the country's lawyers, there was a heartening willingness to stand up for the rule of law and against dictatorial fiat. This attack on judicial independence is a naked move to neutralize any smidgen of opposition to one man rule in the country. Musharraf wants the entire nation to acquiesce to his being a uniformed President for life and the final arbiter of the "national interest" even as state institutions (other than the military) wither away.

The establishment of democratic, constitutional governance in Pakistan will happen only when people stand up and fight for their own rights. No individual, no foreign power will give people their rights on a platter. It was deeply disappointing to me, though not surprising, that there has been virtually no coverage in the US media of this constitutional crisis in a country which is supposedly the "closest ally" in the war on terrorism. There have been countless articles written in the US on the "democratic deficit" in the Muslim world but when mainstream, moderate elements in these countries protest the dictatorships imposed on them by tacit or explicit American support, not a peep is heard amongst the Western crusaders of Muslim reform. One can imagine the coverage today's protests would have received if they had happened in Tehran against the Iranian theocracy. Criticism of "our sons of bitches" (Musharraf, Hosni Mubarak, the Saudis) is somehow always more muted than the legitimate scorn poured on the likes of Chavez, Mugabe and Ahmedinejad. On international affairs, the American "free media" seems mostly to take its cue from the government.

BBC, at least, has to be commended for giving the story its due. It has an interesting analysis of the entire episode. There are also photographs of the protests here.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Another Shameful Episode

On March 9th, the Chief Justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was summoned to that bastion of Pakistani democracy, the Army House, and suspended from office. This is another shameful episode in the long, sad story of Pakistan's first 60 years. Reading the newspapers it is clear that the civil society is unanimous in deploring this latest authoritarian powerplay by Pakistan's current self-styled savior. The way the hopes and dreams of the founding generation of the country have been dashed are enough to kill the spirit of the most optimistic amongst us. The dream of a Pakistan based on the rule of law is further today than it ever has been since its founding.

Anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of Pakistan's sordid khaki-dominated political history can be forgiven for not taking the official reasons seriously. Given that Musharraf has not shown the slightest regard in the past about the destruction of politial institutions or the probity of our judiciary there is not an iota of reason to believe that this was motivated by anything other than power consolidation. This is just a step in the preparation for rigged elections later in the year to keep Musharraf in power and uniform in perpetuity. In retrospect it is clear that Naeem Bukhari's letter widely circulated on the internet was a charade likely orchestarted by the agencies in preparation for this pre-meditated move. Whatever Justice Chaudhry's personal shortcomings it is indeed a fact that he has presided over several decisions that have embarassed the government including the high profile Steel Mills case. His probing in the disappearance of hundreds of Pakistanis into the lawless, Kafkaesque world of Pakistani military intelligence also likely did not endear him to Musharraf and his cronies (amongst them that crying shame of an enabler Prime Minister, Shaukat 'shortcut' Aziz). Going into a fraught political season Musharraf cannot take any chances. That this was orchestrated at a time when the next in seniority Justice Bhagwandas was out of the country provides more evidence of the government's real intentions.

I find Pakistan's current political scene, never encouraging, extremely depressing of late. Musharraf and the army's perpetual chokehold on the people, with intelligence agencies as instruments, has sapped the country of its vitality. Mainstream political parties are paralyzed and in complete disarray. The mullahs are more regressive than ever. Law and order is at an all time low. Pakistanis are likely to emerge from the Musharraf nightmare as a country institutionally more decimated than at any other time in its history. The people of this benighted land seem destined forever to be at the mercy of one tinpot uniformed dictator after another.

The best we can do is to continue to raise our voices for the rule of law and in opposition to constant governmental violations of fundamental rights and to the systematic taking over of the institutions of state by an unaccountable and parasitic elite military class (there are of course honorable exceptions in the military but too few sadly). I am reminded of Dylan Thomas's famous poem, pessimistic as it no doubt is:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.