The volatile political situation in Pakistan right now is perhaps better understood through an analogy with our own country. Imagine if President Bush decided to run for President in 2008. A third of congress resigns in protest, yet the elections go on and he wins. Of course the people take to the streets, but Bush declares emergency rule. He arrests hundreds of human rights lawyers and leading Democrats, and then dissolves half of the Supreme Court.
This is in fact a slightly less terrible version of what is currently happening in the South Asian country of Pakistan. Just days before the Pakistani Supreme Court was expected to pronounce his Presidential re-election as illegal, General Pervez Musharraf violently initiated a state of emergency.
The implications and effects of the decision, along with the vastly unpopular election, would have Orwell turning in his grave.
The emergency rule suspends the Constitution and puts absolute power into Musharraf’s hands. The military, which thrives off continued aid from the United States, is the iron fist responsible for crushing the popular demonstrations. What is most unsettling is the country’s importance toward retaining stability in the Middle East, and the inconsistent realities of U.S. foreign policy that the situation makes powerfully clear. The United States cannot continue supporting Pervez Musharraf’s military autocracy. Since his government took power in a bloodless coup eight years ago, the President’s support has crumbled and his country has slipped into near chaos. A twice former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, returned last month from self-imposed exile in order to broker a power-sharing deal that would consolidate Musharraf’s power and steer his government back towards the people. Yet, in a violent and tragic symbol of the country’s predicament, a terrorist attack met Bhutto’s homecoming caravan that same night, killing 140 people.
Though Bhutto wields enormous political leverage, perhaps more than anyone in the country, her ability to organize protests and catalyze movements is severely restricted by the emergency rule and the fear of additional terrorist attacks against her.
Two of the strongest opponents to Musharraf are the judiciary lawyers and the independent media. Since Monday, almost 700 lawyers have been rounded up by the military, many of them beaten in the process, according to an article in Tuesday’s The New York Times. Additionally, over a dozen news agencies have forcibly been taken off the air, yet another calamity of Musharraf’s effort to extinguish any “threat to future law and order”.
As the turmoil in Pakistan rose to a boil over the past few months, the Pakistani Supreme Court stood as possibly the last fair institution intent on upholding the rights of the people.
Immediately upon obtaining emergency powers, Musharraf dissolved the Court and placed the prominent and influential Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry on house arrest. Not only does this maneuver stall a decision on the Presidential elections, it also seems to force an indefinite delay on the Parliamentary elections scheduled for January.
Our fear that the War on Terrorism will ultimately curtail basic human rights has become the reality in Pakistan.
Since 9/11, the U.S. has given Musharraf’s government over ten billion dollars in aid in order to fight Al Qaida. The money and support continues to flow because American foreign policy openly considers Musharraf’s ability to fight terrorism, which has proven entirely ineffective, more important than democracy.
Aiding an unpopular dictatorship will only plant more roots of extremism. Instead of recognizing Musharraf’s autocracy as the problem, the United States has blindly sponsored a new Saddam Hussein.