anyone marinated in the history of Pakistan, November 3's decision
by the military to impose a State of Emergency will hardly come
as a surprise. Martial Law in this country has become an antibiotic:
in order to obtain the same results one has to keep doubling the
doses. What has taken place is a coup within a coup.
Pervez Musharraf ruled the country with a civilian façade,
but his power base was limited to the Army. And it was the Army
Chief of Staff who declared the emergency, suspended the 1973
Constitution, took all non-government TV channels off the air,
jammed the mobile phone networks, surrounded the Supreme Court
with paramilitary units, dismissed the Chief Justice, arrested
the President of the Bar association and the civil rights activists
of the Human Right Commission of Pakistan, thus inaugurating yet
another shabby period in the country's history.
They feared that a Supreme Court judgement due the coming week
might make it impossible for Musharraf to contest the elections.
The decision to suspend the Constitution was taken a few weeks
ago. Benazir Bhutto was informed and left the country. She is
reportedly on her way back. Till now she has offered no comment
on the new martial law, despite the fact that a senior leader
of her party, Aitzaz Ahsan has been arrested for denouncing the
coup. [November 4 update: Bhutto
Says Her Party Targeted in Crackdown.]
of Chief Justice Iftikhar Hussein Chaudhry's judgements
had challenged the government on key issues such as 'disappeared
prisoners', harassment of women and rushed privatisations.
It was feared that he might declare a uniformed President
by the incense of power she might now discover that it remains
as elusive as ever. If she supports the latest turn it will be
an act of political suicide. If she decides to dump the General
(she has accused him of breaking his promises and it will be difficult
for her to remain allied to a dictator) she will be betraying
the confidence of the US State Department, which pushed her in
At a recent off-the-record gathering at Ditchley Park (a British
Foreign Office think-tank), the would-be Secretary of State, James
Rubin, became short-tempered when Pakistani participants challenged
his view that Bhutto was a decisive player in the 'war on terror'
on the Western borders of the country.
two institutions targeted by the Emergency are the judiciary and
the lively network of independent TV stations, many of whose correspondents
supply information that can never be gleaned from politicians.
Geo TV, the largest of these, continued to broadcast outside the
country. Hamid Mir, one of its sharpest journalists, reported
Sunday afternoon that according to his sources the US Embassy
had green lighted the coup because they regarded the Chief Justice
as a nuisance and 'a Taliban sympathiser'.
a whole year now, the regime was confronted with a severe crisis
of legitimacy that came to a head earlier this year when General
Musharraf's decision to suspend the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Hussein
Chaudhry, provoked a six-month long mass movement that forced
a government retreat. Some of Chaudhry's judgements had challenged
the government on key issues such as 'disappeared prisoners',
harassment of women and rushed privatisations. It was feared that
he might declare a uniformed President illegal.
could be that the aim of the operation was limited to a
cleansing of the Supreme Court and controlling the media.
That is what Musharraf indicated in his broadcast to the
nation. In which case a totally rigged election becomes
a certainty next January.
struggle to demand a separation of powers between the state and
the judiciary, which has always been weak, was of critical importance.
Pakistan's judges have usually been acquiescent in the past. Those
who resisted previous military leaders were cajoled, blackmailed,
bullied and persuaded to retire. Pakistani judges spring from
the same milieu as the rest of the ruling elite, which is why
the decision of this chief justice to fight back was surprising,
but extremely important and won him enormous respect, a commodity
in short supply.
media coverage of Pakistan suggests a country consisting of Generals,
corrupt politicians and bearded lunatics. The struggle to reinstate
the Chief Justice presented a different snapshot of the country.
This movement for constitutional freedoms revived hope at a time
when most people are alienated from the system and cynical about
their rulers, whose ill-gotten wealth and withered faces consumed
by vanity inspire nil confidence.
this is the case can be seen in the heroic decision taken by the
Supreme Court in a special session on Sunday declaring the new
dispensation 'illegal and unconstitutional'. The hurriedly sworn
in new Chief Justice will be seen for what he is: a stooge of
the men in uniform. If the constitution remains in suspension
for more than three months then Musharraf himself might be pushed
aside by the Army and a new strongman put in place.
Or it could be that the aim of the operation was limited to a
cleansing of the Supreme Court and controlling the media. That
is what Musharraf indicated in his broadcast to the nation. In
which case a totally rigged election becomes a certainty next
January. Whatever the case Pakistan's long journey to the end
of the night continues.
The Pakistan Question: Will History Repeat Itself?,
M. Shahid Alam
The Killer Elites Of Pakistan, by M Shahid Alam
New Clashes In Islamabad, by Tariq Ali
Tariq Ali's new book, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Axis Of Hope,
is published by Verso. He also wrote Rough Music: Blair,
Bombs, Baghdad, Terror, London (Verso); Street Fighting
Years (new edition) and, with David Barsamian,Speaking of
Empires & Resistance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
here to order Tariq Ali books.
Other articles by Tariq Ali:
Bush's Cuba Detour
New Clashes In Islamabad
Adieu, Blair, Aideu
The Khyber Impasse
The War Is Already Lost
Venezuela And The Bolivarian Dream
A Bavarian Provocation
A Protracted Colonial War
On The Death Of Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Iraq's Destiny Still Rests Between God, Blood And Oil
A Despised Leader Suffers His First Loss
Pakistan Will Never Forget This Horror
The Logic Of Colonial Rule
A Viler Barbarism
The Price Of Occupation
The New Ultra-Imperialism Of The World
"They Think God Runs The IMF"
Imperial Delusions: "Domocracy Promotion" And Resistance
The New Model Of Imperialism: Saddam On Parade
The Importance Of Hugo Chavez: Why He Crushed The Oligarchs
Getting Away With Murder
The War Is Not Going Well For Bush