By Azmat Abbas Bureau Chief, DawnNews, Lahore It has been nearly three weeks since the Chief of Army Staff declared a state of emergency in the country and launched a crackdown on opposition political parties while imposing curbs on the media. For many across the globe the events occurring in the urban Pakistan are losing attention and they might find the reports of increased resistance faced by the military at the hands of Taliban in the North West of the country more important as news. But for a keen observer the news is not just in the North West of the country as one must understand the news from the North is directly related to what is happening across the country. The emergency and the events that have been following are shaping the future of the country as one that shunned dictatorship and moved towards democracy or as the one where the voice of dissent and demand for democracy was suppressed successfully by a dictator, sadly with the support of the enlightened West, and the country went on to surrender to the fundamentalists. Ever since the military ruler decided to strengthen his grip on the affairs of the state and prove to the world that he is in “full command”, Pakistan is becoming trapped in crises that are multi- pronged and threaten the very existence of the country. This by no means suggests that the country is at the verge of disintegration but certainly indicates that it is in a state of transition from one on the track of development to a one weakened by an extended exposure to authoritarian rule. It seems as if the government is all out to pull down the very pillars that provide it the legitimate structure to rule. General Pervez Musharraf insists that he sent the reference against Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftekhar Muhammad Chaudhry without any bias and accepted the decision of the Supreme Court’s full bench to restore the CJ. However, as the judiciary became aware of the important role it can play as a pillar of the state and started bringing the unlawful acts of the government, particularly the intelligence agencies to justice. The President took it as a direct challenge to his authority. A few months after the initial standoff with the judiciary, President Musharraf took revenge when he moved against the Chief Jusitice in the capacity of Chief of Army Staff. This time he is not making any bones and is directly holding the Chief Justice of Pakistan responsible for the imposition of the Emergency. The Chief of Army Staff held the Chief Justice of Pakistan responsible for creating hurdles in the working of the executive and ordering the intelligence agencies to produce people they had detained on charges of terrorism. Some of the several hundred such people had been in detention of the intelligence agencies without any lawful authority or being charged in a court of law for nearly two years. The manner in which the military ruler is amending the constitution to ensure a freehand to the military is not only shocking, but equally shameful. Now, a civilian can be detained by the military for crimes committed against the military and will be tried in a military court and no civil court would have the jurisdiction to entertain an appeal in this regard. To top it all, the military government was quick to abolish the special cell created by the former chief justice for the hearing of suo moto cases, mostly pertaining to violation of fundamental human rights. The government has succeeded in bringing together nearly eleven members of the judiciary to take oath as judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. To shock many, reports appeared in the print media that at least two of these judges were blackmailed to take oath – the intelligence officials threatened to make public the video footage of one judge with his maid and the daughter of the other with her boyfriend. The fact also proved the long-debated issue that the intelligence agencies had mugged the house of members of the judiciary with an aim to blackmail them into supporting the military government. To add insult to the injury the Chief of Army Staff introduced an amendment in the constitution that grants blanket immunity to the President for the actions ordered in the official capacity. To put it in a simple manner: Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf granted a blanket immunity to President Pervez Musharraf for his acts (however unlawful or unconstitutional they might be). Now when the world is expressing concern over the developments in Pakistan the stance of the military ruler for imposing emergency has shifted from his initial statements of a judiciary that was not allowing the executive to work to the increasing threat of terrorist networks in the country, which he claimed were planning attacks across the globe. It seems as if the world so far failed to realize that “fear of terrorist attacks” is the excuse that has been used by General Musharraf to get things going his way, the manner in which the US has used the term “war on terror” which has resulted in strengthening of the anti-state entities that oppose the US policies. One must realize that those not with Musharraf are not with the terrorists and opposing Musharraf does not mean that these people on the street are supporting the growing forces of Taliban in the country. These people are in fact more liberal and democratic in character than the dictator. The arrests of human rights workers, political activists and members of the lawyers’ community by the thousands clearly indicate that General Musharraf is not of a democratic mindset and like President Bush, those who are not with him are with them (terrorist groups). One might argue that General Musharraf was between a hard place and a rock and he took the decision of emergency as a last resort and now most of those detained are being released. Those aware of the Pakistan’s situation would call it a lame excuse as the act the General was purely on personal grounds and not in the best interest of the country. Second, those arrested during the emergency are certainly being released but only after the signing of a bond by their family members on their behalf that they would not participate in any protest against the government in future on pains of re-arrest if the person in questions is spotted at any public gathering or meeting organized against the government. This is perhaps a step forward as in the past only the ones detained were required to fill out a surety bond for their future behaviour but not it’s the family that is being made responsible for their acts. Also, people arrested during the period are being released on bails and as soon as they are found participating in any protest, their bail could be cancelled forthwith and they can be sent behind the bars. One should also note that a majority of these people have been booked under the notorious Anti-Terrorism Act. On another front the efforts by the military government to gag the media have appeared to reach its peak with the imposition of ban on the broadcast of local and international news channels. As the international pressure mounted and media people took to the streets it was expected that the government would ease restrictions – which it has resisted to a great extent to-date. Several local and international channels were pulled off-air as soon as the emergency was imposed on November 3, 2007, and many of them still remain off-air. A few of the news channels were allowed to go on-air after securing guarantees that they would not broadcast programs that criticize the government. In particular, it bared the Aaj Tv network from broadcasting two of its most popular programs known to criticize the government policies on a host of issues and drew a large viewer-ship. At the same time, the military government persuaded the government of United Arab Emirates to stop the broadcast of two news channels that had their earth stations in media city Dubai. Thus, Geo News and AryOneWorld – which were earlier available on satellite dish went off-air on the night of November 16, 2007. However, nearly a week later on November 22, 2007, AryOneWorld was allowed back on-air. The existing hostilities towards the working journalists in the major cities is in public eye but the things become extremely difficult when we move to the peri-urban areas or even to Balochistan and North West Frontier Province. For instance, police took 12 journalists into custody for gathering at the Quetta Press Club to register their protest against the media curbs. With the judiciary tamed, a number of petitions challenging General Musharraf’s claim to presidency while in the service of Pakistan army have been rejected and the court have directed the election commission to announce a date for his oath taking as a civilian president. In very few countries such an event would have unfolded where one-man show has gone to such limits. The situation on ground is that the military is faced with a tough resistance by the pro-Taliban groups in the North West Frontier Province, the Shia-Sunni conflict is at its peak in the Northern Areas, a political environment in the country sans-Musharraf is being considered murky by the dictator, the forces of moderation are under-threat from those claiming to be fighting fundamentalism, life for the common man in Pakistan was never so complex. It appears General Musharraf would retain his position as the President since the United States is not bothered at all that its top ally is drifting away from the path of true democracy and sadly in our case, legitimacy to rule have rarely stemmed from the people, but legitimacy for dictators have always stemmed from the US.
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