TWO days after General Pervez Musharraf promulgated the emergency, rumours of a coup were rife across
. At least one observer saw the irony of it all. “It is a testament to the woeful state of the Pakistani political imagination,” wrote Time magazine’s Brian Bennett, “that the only solution it can come up with to a military dictator is a military coup.” Pakistan
It wasn’t, by a long stretch, the unkindest cut during a week in which it seemed almost everyone had a comment to offer, more often than not in the shape of a lament. And here’s a second irony: under newly amended ordinances, media outlets in
After considerable confusion and contradictory statements, his press conference at the weekend brought forth the promise of elections by January 9, but there was no indication of when the emergency might be lifted, or the feisty television channels that have proliferated in recent years - and which serve as a primary source of news for much of the population - permitted to resume their broadcasts. The matter of the president’s military post also remains shrouded in murk, even though the matter of sartorial preferences has been broached by none other than George W. Bush, who claims to bluntly have told Musharraf in a phone call last week, “You ought to have elections soon and you need to take off your uniform.” A bit crude, perhaps, but you won’t hear Musharraf complaining. He reacted rather differently when Britain’s Daily Telegraph, in an editorial on Pakistan, cited FDR’s notorious “but he’s our sonofabitch” comment about Nicaragua’s dictator Anastasio Somoza: the “insult” led to the expulsion of three foreign correspondents from Pakistan, and the dictator has demanded an apology from the newspaper.
Meanwhile, the political relationship between the General and Benazir Bhutto continues to excite comment. Like him, she’s wearing two hats at the moment: putative leader of the opposition as well as Musharraf’s potential partner in a power-sharing arrangement. She was briefly confined to her
The imposition of martial law caught Bhutto on the hop and it took some days before her rhetoric acquired a sharper edge, but has she nonetheless appeared determined not to completely alienate Musharraf. The feeling is probably mutual. Although Musharraf, in his news conference on Sunday, berated the western media for its premature assumption that Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party would effortlessly secure a parliamentary majority, she is not being treated in quite the same manner as other adversaries.
Their possible union is, of course, blessed by Washington, which gives the impression of being mildly embarrassed by Musharraf’s latest antics, albeit not sufficiently to withdraw its support or suspend military aid. The
As a potential figurehead, Benazir Bhutto fits the bill. And she is determined not to say or do anything that could conceivably interfere with her eligibility. Last Friday, while barricaded inside her
The people of
That, too, is nonsense.
Let’s not forget that the initial
The fundamentalist fiefdoms established in the northern areas by the likes of Maulana Fazlullah and Baitullah Mehsud undoubtedly need to be dismantled. However, exclusive resort to military means has thus far proved ineffective as well as counterproductive. Direct American input is guaranteed to make matters worse.
In its 60 years,
The institutions essential to democratic sustenance haven’t, in the interim, been strengthened. It doesn’t make much sense to cite Abraham Lincoln - as Musharraf did in his rambling peroration justifying the emergency - in justifying constitutional violations while the ideal of a government of the people, by the people and for the people remains relegated to the realm of wishful thinking.
The way forward? “A government of national reconciliation ... backed by the military”, as the incarcerated head of the Human Rights Commission, Asma Jahangir, suggested in last week, would be well worth a try. It would have to be preceded, of course, by elections, preferably of the free and fair variety. All political detainees need to be released before that, and media freedoms restored. The restitution of an independent judiciary, the rule of law and basic human rights would be equally welcome. Persuading the army to takes orders from civilian authorities and desist from political interference would probably be the hardest part.
None of the foregoing suggestions is at odds with any reasonable concept of “enlightened moderation”, which once used to be Musharraf’s favourite catchphrase. But, going back to Brian Bennett’s observation, the least unrealistic prospect may well be an alternative military chief who recognizes that the army’s role in politics has always been detrimental to national progress and that a decisive break with this pattern is fast becoming an existential necessity. Pakistan desperately needs to cast off the curse of continuity and the shackles of pious obscurantism. Musharraf’s emergency is deeply unpopular, yet there has been little evidence of mass mobilisation - not least because all the large political parties have thoroughly discredited themselves over the decades. Bhutto remains capable of attracting a crowd, but her depressing record in power as well as her current machinations allow little scope for optimism.