Last week, Prof M. Shahid Alam alerted readers to Pakistan's special position as America's ally against terror despite the fact that the country qualifies as a member of the Axis of Evil. Well last Saturday, Pakistan's generals moved to protect their position and destroy democracy. As expected the U.S. sat back and did nothing. What's down the road for Pakistan? Tariq Ali thinks a rigged election is not out of the question. It's all about appearances. Burma's generals heaved a sigh of relief.

 

For 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.

General 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.

Why? 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.]

Some 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 illegal.

Intoxicated 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 this direction.

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.

The 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'.

For 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.

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.

The 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.

Global 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.

That 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?, by M. Shahid Alam
The Killer Elites Of Pakistan, by M Shahid Alam
New Clashes In Islamabad, by Tariq Ali

Note: 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 tariq.ali3@btinternet.com



Click 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
Conveniently Forgotten
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





For more... email mybigo@bigozine.com with the message, "Put me on your mailing list."

 
November 6, 2007