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Are US Rulers Again Making a Blunder?

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Rulers of the world may believe it or not but this is the truth --  Al Qaeda has Pakistan by the throat.

Life is being squeezed out of this place. Terror and fear have been reigning supreme.  At this critical time, US officials have been giving wrong information and statements.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday Pakistan must go ahead with elections next year and the United States opposed any move by President Pervez Musharraf to impose martial law. “I am not going to get into the details of our conversations but I think it would be quite obvious that the United States would not be supportive of extra-constitutional means,” said Rice, when asked whether the United States opposed any move by Musharraf to declare martial law. “Pakistan needs to prepare for and hold free and fair elections,” said the top U.S. diplomat, adding that she had not spoken to Musharraf in recent days.

Rice was speaking to reporters en route to Turkey and before a refuelling stop in Shannon, Ireland. “The political space needs to be prepared by moderate forces, beginning to work together, which is why we have been supportive of moderate forces like Mrs. Bhutto's return, and that moderate forces have a common enemy in the extremists who are so much in evidence,” Rice said. “We are in constant contact with the leadership and the political leaders in Pakistan but I am not going to speculate on what might happen,” Rice said.

There will no denying the fact that democracy is the best form of government, but this is also the fact - that in the presence of terrorists there will be very little chance of holding free and fair elections. Terrorists have peneterated into the society. Now they have been using both money and force for bringing themselves into power. In this situation, leaving President Musharraf will be a big blunder.

The dire situation in the country was discussed by a newspaper comment. According to it: On the eve of the Supreme Court verdict on the re-election of President General Pervez Musharraf, rumours have gathered strength that the government might impose an Emergency or martial law in the country and thus suspend the normal application of the Constitution, allowing the General Musharraf establishment to postpone the January 2008 general elections. The rumours have sown confusion in everyone’s mind, not least Benazir Bhutto’s. She first decided to leave for Dubai on Wednesday night, then cancelled her trip and then rebooked it and left for Dubai early Thursday afternoon. Before leaving she asked the government not even to think of imposing an Emergency or state of martial law. In her judgement, “the people will come out and resist it”. But her departure is ominous. It is as if she knows that something is about to happen which could adversely impact her.

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If we go 30 years back in history, there is probably ground enough to declare an Emergency. In fact, governments have been so trigger happy with this device that Pakistan has lived most of its life under a state of Emergency. It got so bad after some time that the Emergency seemed like normal life in Pakistan, and even when dictatorship made way for democracy, the politician-ruler felt safer living under conditions of Emergency. So, in 2007, some people might ask: what would be the difference this time? The population lives without rights anyway by reason of the near-extinct writ of the state and its inability to come to its help when warlords maltreat it in territories under their control.

While it is true that the state has retreated in Pakistan, the appurtenances of democracy are present as never before. The media is vibrant and there is open discussion among the people, mostly about their rights under democracy. Even the religious parties who once bad-mouthed democracy as a “Western curse” seem to idealise democracy and its fundamental requirement of accountability. All the political parties are functional and are vying for power through an electorate that is ready to vote despite the fear of terrorism. Those who saw the reception Ms Bhutto got in Karachi on October 18 will have to concede that Pakistan is ready for the resumption of the democratic process.

However, the election calculus says no one party will come out clearly on top in the forthcoming elections. This is anticipated by the political parties too and they are trying a little harder, and more raucously, than ever to increase their edge against rivals. Popular response too indicates that all the mainstream parties will score well and divide the electoral cake among themselves. The results in January are expected to throw up a party in the lead that will be constrained to form a coalition to attain majority in parliament, which means that the current political tension will subside and Pakistan will try to equip itself to tackle the problems it faces. What are these problems?

The problems are related to the very events that are supposed to make the government think of an Emergency. Uppermost among them are the state of law and order and the creeping loss of territory in the NWFP and the Tribal Areas. So far, President Musharraf has been unable to tackle the problem of Al Qaeda terrorism because of lack of political support. Not even the PMLQ is willing to support him whole-heartedly because of its fear of losing the votes of a population “in denial”. If Emergency is imposed, the current political opposition will become more intense and will indirectly join the efforts of Al Qaeda to get rid of President Musharraf and his government. He needs the January election, and he needs more votes in parliament supporting his anti-terrorism drive, before he can take on Al Qaeda. Not having elections will mean more support to Al Qaeda from the people and more defeats for the military in its efforts to dislodge the terrorists from Pakistani territory.

The signs are ominous. In Swat, the terrorists are beheading policemen, which is an extension of the Al Qaeda policy to hit the security forces à la Iraq. In the latest attack in Sargodha yesterday, a suicide bomber killed nine air force officers. In Rawalpindi, where the suicide-bomber may have tried to get at President Musharraf, the investigators have declared the incident an Al Qaeda hit. The Supreme Court the same day punished senior police officers and civil servants with jail sentences for having manhandled the chief justice back in March when he was wrongly fired by the President. Unless elections are held and a new government installed, the scene in Pakistan will start looking as if the people, the judiciary and Al Qaeda are on the same side, fighting a ruler of dubious legality.

A state of Emergency will draw a firm line between the people and the government. A large number of vested interests connected with the institution of democracy at present will have to take the field against the government at the risk of confrontation. The need is to take on Al Qaeda, not the people of Pakistan. To do this, elections must be held on the appointed day and all efforts should be bent to ensure that the run-up to the polls proceeds without disturbance and the polling day is guarded with everything at the disposal of the state.

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur Agency, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is also (more...)

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First, trying to characterize the struggle going o... by Mac McKinney on Saturday, Nov 3, 2007 at 9:17:01 AM