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Pakistan: Emergency Times

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Message Siddharth Ramana
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The decision by Pakistan President to impose a state of emergency on November 3, 2007, has met with strong opposition, both domestically and internationally. This article argues that while the judiciary has been the most significant threat to Musharraf’s quest to continue in power, the immediate cause for the declaration of emergency can be traced to the military setbacks faced in Waziristan and SWAT valley.

Musharraf has been increasingly vilified by the judiciary, which was to soon pronounce a result on the constitutional eligibility of his re-election candidature, while he continues to be Army Chief. 

Musharraf won a farcical re-election process on October 6th; which was preceded by active opposition of the judiciary, which helped organize opposition and lawsuits against him. In one protest, hundreds of lawyers clashed with policemen, after which a media blackout of the protests was imposed to mitigate the fallout.  Musharraf’s move to maintain his popularity however resulted in a mass resignation of law makers, which made the election unconstitutional-atleast on paper. 

These undemocratic acts did not deter Benazir Bhutto from completing her return to Pakistan, under a secret power sharing agreement with Musharraf. This agreement, provided for all corruption charges leveled against her to be expunged, and paved way for a transition to a “democratic” rule, with Musharraf to continue as President.

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However, the Supreme Court in accepting the lawsuit against Musharraf’s presidential eligibility opened a pandora’s box for the political survival of Musharraf. If the decision goes against Musharraf, it would unravel the deal with Benazir, and force him to vacate the all powerful position as army chief. Additionally, the hearings against Musharraf for deporting former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, would also attract contempt of court sentences from the court which allowed for his return. Musharraf’s wrangles with the judiciary, however owe their roots to the intense protests which gripped Pakistan when Musharraf had sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in March. Musharraf had to bow down to the Supreme Court directives in re-instating him a few months later.

Benazir, fearing repercussions that her own deal with Musharraf would come under the glare of the judiciary, conveniently placed it on the backburner on the pretext that Musharraf was not providing her with adequate security. It is interesting to note that Bhutto left the country just hours after talks were stalled between herself and Musharraf. The emergency was declared soon after.

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However, it can be argued that the immediate concern for Musharraf’s drastic measure can be traced to the parading of 48 soldiers of the Pakistan, who surrendered to the militant forces they were fighting in the SWAT valley earlier this week. Musharraf, who rose to power in 1999 on the basis of his uncontested popularity among the armed forces, was now losing his support base.

Indeed, increasing reports indicated that the Pakistan army was fast losing morale, and were increasingly disinclined in fighting the Islamists, whom they viewed as fellow countrymen. To others, the losses of their comrades were unacceptable, because they were fighting America’s war. Adil Najam, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the US wrote in a newspaper editorial that “never since the Bangladesh war, has Pakistan’s military been under such strain”.

Additional consideration for martial law would have been the suicide bombing in Islamabad, which occurred close to Musharraf’s residence. It can be speculated that an attack just half a mile away from his residence, would have involved the connivance of some disgruntled security forces.  Musharraf would have realized by now, that with sapping Military morale and increasingly difficult political alliances his political life had become mortal, but the bombing reiterated the fact that he himself was in mortal danger from the Islamists, he had helped nurture.

When a country’s army relies on another country’s forces to do its job, it reflects on the professionalism of the armed forces. The strike on a militant hideout in Waziristan, by a suspected American drone, should be seen as evidence that the Americans were now not going to hesitate in using their military powers against the Islamists. This was a tacit recognition of Pakistan’s failure in dealing with its internal crises.

Musharraf was being popularly referred to as “Busharraf”, for his close ties with US President George Bush. Indeed, the United States had such a strong leverage on Musharraf, that it was under persistent pressure that negotiations with Bhutto were initiated. Reports have revealed, that US secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helped prevent an earlier declaration of Emergency. The air strike would have emboldened Musharraf to now play his final card in his battle for survival, in which he could then adopt repressive measures in dealing with his critics.

A beleaguered Musharraf’s decision to impose Emergency should be viewed from the fact that he realized his political survival were numbered, not particularly owing to judicial activism, but the increasing resentment towards him from the armed forces. The only factor which prevented Musharraf from considering the Emergency earlier was the threat of the United States. American influence increasingly strengthened rebel factions in the army. It is for this reason that Musharraf chose to disobey western opinion. Judicial activism can be viewed as a slowdown for Musharraf, but losing military approval would have been a showdown.

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Siddharth Ramana is an MscEcon in Intelligence and Strategic Studies. A student of peace and conflict studies, he is presently pursuing an additional Masters in Counter Terrorism (Israel). He has worked as a research assistant for the Institute of (more...)
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