State of Emergency and Crackdown on Political Activists in Pakistan
On November 3, Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution in the face of protests against his attempted re-election while remaining army chief. Musharraf came to power following a 1999 military coup d'etat and since 2001 has been a key U.S. ally in the region. These recent actions lay bare the hypocrisy of the supposed democratic aims of the "War On Terror." Below, British socialist Tariq Ali reflects on the meaning of the state of emergency.
Prior to the state of emergency, Against the Current interviewed Farooq Tariq, the leader of the Labour Party of Pakistan, about the political situation there.
General Pervez Musharraf ruled the country with a civilian façade, but his power base was limited to the army. And it was the army Chief of Staff who declared the emergency, suspended the 1973 constitution, took all non-government TV channels off the air, jammed the mobile phone networks, surrounded the Supreme Court with paramilitary units, dismissed the Chief Justice, arrested the president of the bar association and inaugurated yet another shabby period in the country’s history.
Why? They feared that a Supreme Court judgment due next week might make it impossible for Musharraf to contest the elections. The decision to suspend the constitution was taken a few weeks ago. According to good sources, contrary to what her official spokesman has been saying ("she was shocked"), Benazir Bhutto was informed and chose to leave the country before it happened. (Whether her “dramatic return” was also pre-arranged remains to be seen.) Intoxicated by the incense of power, she might now discover that it remains as elusive as ever. If she ultimately supports the latest turn it will be an act of political suicide. If she decides to dump the general (she accused him last night of breaking his promises), she will be betraying the confidence of the US state department, which pushed her this way.
The regime has been confronted with a severe crisis of legitimacy that came to a head earlier this year when Musharraf’s decision to suspend the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Hussain Chaudhry, provoked a six-month long mass movement that forced a government retreat. Some of Chaudhry’s judgments had challenged the government on key issues such as “disappeared prisoners”, harassment of women and rushed privatisations. It was feared that he might declare a uniformed president illegal.
The Supreme Court’s declaration that the new dispensation was “illegal and unconstitutional” was heroic, and, by contrast, the hurriedly sworn in new Chief Justice will be seen for what he is: a stooge of the men in uniform. If the constitution remains suspended for more than three months then Musharraf may be pushed aside by the army and a new strongman installed. Or it could be that the aim was limited to cleansing the Supreme Court and controlling the media. In which case a rigged January election becomes a certainty.
Whatever the case, Pakistan’s long journey to the end of the night continues.
- Labour Party of Pakistan - Solidarity's sister organization in Pakistan, with updates on the crisis
- Articles On Pakistan from Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières
- Pakistan Solidarity Appeal – No to the State of Emergency! No to Martial Law!
- International Viewpoint, magazine of the Fourth International
- News Articles on Pakistan from Google News