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Crisis In Pakistan Deepening

By       Message Muhammad Khurshid     Permalink
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Interestingly US President George W. Bush has extended his full support to President Musharraf for declaring a state of emergency in Pakistan.

It seems that US President wants to keep his close ally in power at all costs.

Actually, President Musharraf has served Bush very obediently for the last seven years. But now, Bush has not found another man, who will be more obedient than Musharraf, so he wants to keep in power.

One thing should be kept in mind that Pakistani affairs have directly been controlled by US rulers.

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There is still uproar over the emergency declaration in Pakistan. A newspaper comment while condemning gagging the press states that  Musharraf would know as well as anybody else that access to information is every citizen’s right. So there is no question about him, or his government, ‘giving’ the country a free media as he believes. It is not for him to take this freedom away either. The government’s arbitrary blocking of all television news channels — including the foreign ones — and putting curbs on the press can thus not be justified. It is clearly an attempt to coerce media organisations to toe the official line. But are TV viewers foolish enough to buy into it? One cannot turn the clock back to the time when PTV was the only source of information — or disinformation. In today’s high-tech world when information can be found on the Internet or obtained through cell phones the move against television channels will be counter-productive. Besides how long can the government keep the plug pulled on TV channels? Gen Musharraf must realise how denial of information can contribute to further unrest, fear and rumour-mongering of the worst kind. Since the channels were blocked, all kinds of rumours have been flying that are discomfiting to the public as well as the stock markets, as we saw on Monday.

The government appears willing to go all out in its efforts to silence dissent. The amendments to the Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance and the Pemra law prescribe draconian punishment for papers and TV channels not complying with instructions that are ambiguous and already covered by existing laws. Thus why should the government want to arrogate to itself the power to decide what ‘defames or brings into ridicule’ the head of state or members of the armed forces/government? Obviously to assume arbitrary control over the media. In the case of television it proceeded to act even before the amendments were promulgated — something quite unprecedented.

To avoid an ugly confrontation, all TV channels must be put back on air forthwith. A free and independent media is a must, no matter what the nation’s on-going crisis at the time is. The media is well aware of its responsibility of providing people with information. It must be allowed to do its job without fear of reprisal or attack. If it violates the law it is for the court to sit in judgment. History has shown that the press in Pakistan has withstood all kinds of intimidation and come out with flying colours. Independent television — a new phenomenon in the country — can be expected to do the same.

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According to a report from Washington, President George W Bush exhorted President Pervez Musharraf to hold elections and relinquish his army post “as soon as possible”.

“Our hope is that he will restore democracy as quickly as possible,” he said.
However, the president made a point of praising Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror and seemed resigned that there is little concrete action he can take to influence Musharraf’s behavior.‘Take off uniform’: Earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on General Pervez Musharraf to stick to his word and “take off his uniform”. She sought to underscore US opposition to the emergency, a senior US official said. According to CNN, she had told reporters that it would be best for Pakistan to return to a constitutional path.

US reviewing aid: Defence Secretary Robert Gates, on a visit to China, called the events of the past few days in Pakistan “disturbing”. He said the US is reviewing its aid to Pakistan as a result of Musharraf’s actions but would be “mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counter-terrorism efforts”.

US warns of change: Before President Bush’s comments, the US warned Musharraf that “our relationship will not remain the same” without democracy. After years of coaxing Islamabad back to democracy, “if we have now gone in a different direction, then our relationship will not remain the same,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

A leading newspaper in its editorial discussed the situation in Pakistan. According to it, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said that the government was committed to making sure that general elections were held and the democratic process flourished in Pakistan. But he was not sure when the elections would actually be held: “There could be some timing difference on the election schedule but we have not decided yet”. The minister of state for information was more forthcoming: “Elections will be held, but the dates may be adjusted because of emergency rule in the country”.

The elections, due in January 2008, may not be held if the life of the parliament is extended, meaning that the ruling party will get another year in power. A senior presidential aide, however, said that Gen Musharraf “wants the election on time but the ruling party wants it to be delayed”. But Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, the Punjab chief minister, has reiterated his desire for the elections to be held as pledged. So one is not sure what the government is up to and why.

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The prime minister also stated the “reasons” behind taking the extra-constitutional step of declaring an “emergency plus”. The first reason he gave was the restoration of the writ of the government, improvement of law and order and maintenance of harmony among the judiciary, executive and the legislature”. As far as the question of inter-institutional harmony is concerned, it has already been sorted out by the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). Predictably all the slots vacated by the exodus of the judges in the judiciary are going to be filled by new incumbents. The lawyers are thinking of coming out in the streets but soon they will think of livelihood too, like the rest of the country. So law and order should not prove to be an impediment in the holding of elections.

Similarly, if the “harmony” between the three organs of the state was the only problem, then that has been sorted out by the COAS becoming President and the judiciary having been tamed. But there is the question of the writ of the state and law and order. This belongs to now and future both, but elections can be held even if Al Qaeda goes about spreading terrorism in the Tribal Areas. Yet the government and the army must show palpable improvement in the performance of the state against terrorism. In the coming two months much can be done to turn the tide of Al Qaeda’s dominance. To eliminate Al Qaeda, however, a much longer time would be needed. And Pakistan would be better equipped to handle that job after the elections are held in January 2008.

That the ruling PMLQ wanted to declare emergency specifically to get another year in office was clear some months ago. But is it good for the general who will then continue in uniform as president for another year? As time passes he will look more and more like the earlier generals who took over “reluctantly”, then promised polls after three months, but stayed on for nearly a decade, finally leaving Pakistan much worse economically — and politically more divided — than they found it. President Musharraf has the numbers with him: he has the ruling coalition with governments in three provinces, he has the largest party in the country, the PPP, still listening to him; and a “realistic” JUIF from the MMA willing not to rock the boat too much. What more does he want?

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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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