Sunday, November 04, 2007

General's Second Coming

This is a sad deja vu moment for Pakistan. Another military coup, but with a bizarre feature: Pakistan Army chief General Pervez Musharraf has carried out a coup against President Pervez Musharraf's government. Through a Proclamation of Emergency he has overthrown the Constitution of 1973 and issued a somewhat Orwellian Provisional Constitutional Order that has overthrown the authority of the existing courts, though it has allowed the current National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies to continue till the elections which are scheduled for the coming months.

As of now most Supreme Court judges and 500 opposition activists have been arrested or are under house arrest.Chief Justice Ifthikar Muhammad Chaudhury and seven of his fellow judges including Justice Rana Bhagwandas have been removed from office. In an unprecedented move on Saturday afternoon, seven judges, a majority, of the Supreme Court actually convened a bench and overturned the Provisional Constitutional Order and restrained the Chief of Army Staff, corps commanders, staff officers and other civil and military officers from acting under the decree. The judges restrained President Gen Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz from taking actions contrary to the independence of the judiciary and asked the judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts, including their chief justices, not to take an oath under the PCO or follow any other extra-constitutional steps.
Among those detained since are Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; cricket star-turned politician, Imran Khan; Asma Jehangir, chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; and Hamid Gul, former chief of the main intelligence agency and a staunch critic of Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led war on terror.
Ironically, even in 1999, when the General overthrew the lawfully elected government of Nawaz Sharif, the Supreme Court had refused to endorse the coup and support Musharraf. In April 2000 the then chief justice Saiduzzaman Siddiqui and six other judges had refused to take oath under the PCO issued by Gen Musharraf at the time of the first coup and stepped down from office.

This is martial law, not emergency. Musharraf made the proclamation of emergency as Army chief and not president. This is how it reads:

......WHEREAS some members of the judiciary are working at cross purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism, thereby weakening the government and the nation’s resolve and diluting the efficacy of its actions to control this menace;

WHEREAS there has been increasing interference by some members of the judiciary in government policy, adversely affecting economic growth, in particular;
.....AND WHEREAS the situation has been reviewed in meetings with the prime minister, governors of all four provinces, and with Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Chiefs of the Armed Forces, Vice-Chief of Army Staff and Corps Commanders of the Pakistan Army; NOW, THEREFORE, in pursuance of the deliberations and decisions of the said meetings, I, General Pervez Musharraf, Chief of the Army Staff, proclaim Emergency throughout Pakistan.

2. I, hereby, order and proclaim that the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan shall remain in abeyance.

This Proclamation shall come into force at once.

Authority is being derived from meetings with the Vice Chief, Corps Commanders etc and issued in the name of the Army chief, so it is obviously a statement of marital law and the clear target is the judiciary, and by extension the civil society. He has accused it of working at “cross purposes” with the government and legislative branch, which is being kept alive for the present.

This is not about saving the nation from fundamentalist terrorism and the loss of state authority in Waziristan and Swat, but saving the General's right to remain President regardless of constitutional proprieties. It is clearly linked to the 11-man Supreme Court bench hearing a petition on the legality of his election as president, even while he was serving as the army chief. Having tried all kinds of tactics, including trying to bully the Supreme Court Chief Justice, the general ran out of political and constitutional options.

What now ?

By taking on the judiciary, after emasculating mainstream politics, the General and the army are alienating those very elements of civil society whose support is vital for Pakistan to overcome the threat of Islamic radicalism. If the Lal Masjid episode was not enough to convince the Pakistani elite that the barbarians are at the gate, the current goings on in Waziristan and Swat should.

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