by Shankar Tripathi
The people of Pakistan, in addition to living in fear of Islamic fundamentalists, must now also live in fear of the very government put in place to protect them. Pervez Musharraf, the President of this nuclear power, declared a state of emergency on November 3, 2007, due to extremist threat and what he called a breach of power by the judicial system. The terrorist threat is not foreign to the nation, but the implementation of martial law due to a so-called breach of power by the judicial system took the whole world by surprise. The reason for this however, may not be as pleasant as we would like to imagine. To understand this, one must be savvy on the history of Pakistani politics.
In 1999, Musharraf, the Army Chief of Staff, initiated a military coup. Following this, he became the de facto Head of Government, and later appointed himself the President of the nation. Many judges resigned due this apparent disregard for the Constitution. From 1999, there has been a struggle between Musharraf and the courts.
Fast-forward to the Pakistani Presidential Election in October 2007. In a ridiculously orchestrated “election”, Musharraf was “elected” by an overwhelming majority by the Pakistani legislature. But this election did not pass without dissent and more importantly, a question of legitimacy. Several petitions were considered by the Pakistani Supreme Court, which asked for the disqualification of the incumbent as presidential candidate because he is still the Army Chief of Staff. The elections were allowed to continue, but there would be no official winner till the Court decided the legitimacy of the issue.
And this is where the state of emergency comes in. Less than a month after Musharraf won the vote to be re-elected as Pakistan’s president, emergency rule was declared, where the nation’s constitution was suspended and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was fired. In Islamabad, the nation’s capital, troops raided the Supreme Court as well as surrounded the judge’s homes. State-run media outlets were put under the control of the military, while independent channels have been completely shut down.
So why such excessive measures? The Supreme Court was still to decide the eligibility of Pervez Musharraf as President of Pakistan while he still remained army chief. Before the Court could decide, it, along with the rest of Pakistan, was put under martial rule due to the fact Musharraf feared the outcome. His shaky relationship with the courts surely was the reason for this. Fearing the declaration that he could not head the nation with his current status, he did what any cunning leader would do—create such chaos that only he could placate.
It has been announced that the state of emergency would end in late November or early December of this year. This, considering the ever-uncertain political scene in Pakistan, is not likely to happen. International pressure also is not a solution to this dilemma. As we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, change must come from within. If all the Pakistani people, not just the few dissenters in the courts, stood up and demanded real political reform, maybe it would occur. But for now, we’ll just have to wait and see.