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There was a time when all the people were saying that everything is okay. Only OpEdNews.com has allowed a forum for those of us who have said that the rulers of Pakistan have been deceiving the world. Now almost all the world has accepted the fact. Finally, full media attention has started to change things in Pakistan. But the initiative was taken by OpEdNews. Thank you.

The situation in Pakistan remains critical, but serious efforts have begun to correct the ongoing crisis.  According to former foreign secretary Tanvir Ahmed Khan: Travelling in Europe, one is struck by the extraordinary attention received by the events set into motion by the extra constitutional proclamation of emergency by General Pervez Musharraf as the chief of army staff. It is not often that major newspapers devote two full pages to Pakistan in a single issue and add trenchant comments in editorials. Very often, the punch in the dispatches comes from western government leaders and even more strongly from other eminent personalities dissatisfied with caution in official criticism.

The other day, Chris Patten, Gareth Evans and Joschka Fischer, who have formidable experience in international relations, demanded selective sanctions against the Pakistani regime in a jointly authored article. They described the ‘emergency” as a coup against the Constitution and put President Musharraf’s approval rating in Pakistan at a pathetic twenty one per cent. Sanctions proposed by them explored new ground. They recommended a travel ban on the prime minister, his cabinet and the “key generals”. They want imposition of restrictions on contracts with military–run companies on the grounds that the Pakistan military, being “a worldly group that enjoys its privileges”, would reconsider its stand under such a threat. This view of our armed forces as a corporate enterprise is beginning to shape mainstream political thought abroad. Juxtapose it with the sub-text of present international comment that the US-led West should have a failsafe plan for Pakistan’s nuclear capability and assets, and you get a measure of the damage done by the precipitate action of November 3.

Not since 1970 has the international community formulated its demands so succinctly as now. Dick Cheney may still want to extend a helping hand but the State Department under Condoleezza Rice does not relish taking on the entire liberal establishment on behalf of the Musharraf regime. Meanwhile the Commonwealth has served notice of suspending Pakistan if the proclamation of emergency is not revoked before its summit on November 23. Gordon Brown moved away briefly from the main theme of his first major foreign policy speech — a mandatory reaffirmation of Britain’s trans-Atlantic ties in the post-Blair era — to provide a crisp list of things that Musharraf has to do. His foreign secretary, David Miliband, repeated the prescription even though he had played a part in softening the tone of the Commonwealth statement.

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Pakistan’s representatives abroad have little to offer to the international community beyond a defiant assertion that the time table for winding down the draconian steps of November 3 would be determined in Pakistan and not abroad. Considering that Pakistan brought the date for the next election forward from February 12 to around January 9 in a matter of days to head off international pressure, this defiance gets little traction. For once, Pakistani expatriates, whose legendary patriotism has always been harnessed by Pakistani embassies to ease up all kinds of political and economic stresses, urge western governments to pile up pressure on Musharraf for the restoration of the Constitution and media freedom.

It would be an exaggeration to say that the international hue and cry reflects a partisan interest in Benazir Bhutto. There are sacrosanct principles involved as indeed the need to be seen judging Pakistan by the yardstick of liberty and freedom for which western armies are avowedly fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. But two distinct strands do link up with Bhutto. Her sense of being short-changed resonates with western governments that had urged her to form a moderate coalition with General Musharraf. Secondly, there are fears that the coup of November 3 would contribute hugely to the radicalisation of Benazir Bhutto. She had absorbed much criticism for entering into a compact with the General and maintained a studied ambiguity for weeks in the face of mounting evidence that his heart was not in the democratisation project.

Pakistan’s deteriorating political situation has posed a dilemma for Benazir Bhutto. Unrivalled as an opposition leader because of her uncanny ability to connect with the masses, she needs to mobilise her party cadres for the next election. The party has not escaped repression and hundreds of her supporters are in jail. Predictably, it reinforces the perception that fair and free elections simply cannot be held with Musharraf still in the driving seat. Bhutto had not returned to bring him down but will now have to take a position on this new turn of events. Musharraf has all long encountered pressures from within his own camp to defy world opinion and airbrush Bhutto from the picture.

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Reluctantly, Bhutto is resorting to an incremental radicalisation of her stance in the present crisis. The international community knows that Pakistan is drifting towards the tipping point but is still hoping that the agreed road map to a full restoration of parliamentary democracy can be salvaged. It is by no means certain that the president will give up his plan to permanently extrapolate the military doctrine of the unity of command into national politics to curb the power of Parliament and Judiciary.

As more and more people accept the view that the emergency aimed primarily at ousting several judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts and silencing a vibrant media dominated by a new generation of fiercely outspoken working journalists, the political tussle in Pakistan threatens to become an existential crisis — existential for the regime, for the modernistic state and for the civil society.

In the ensuing maelstrom of rage and revolt, Bhutto can hardly be expected to remain tied to the original script unilaterally. Musharraf is used to creating new facts forcibly so that he can subsequently demand compliance in the name of law. The increasing resort to repression is fuelling the fires of an outright confrontation. By sweeping aside all aspirations for democracy, human rights and the rule of law he may be pushing Pakistan into a crisis in which this tactic may become dangerous. Pakistan has been badly hurt by this tactic in the past; it may be badly hurt again.

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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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