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The beginning of Musharraf’s end

Friday 16 November 2007, by NAYAR Kuldip

The good news that filters through the emergency-cum-martial law clamped on Pakistan is that thousands of people are coming out on the streets in protest. Lawyers, doctors and journalists are in the forefront. They are being dragged into vans in the bazaars of Lahore, Karachi and the small towns of Punjab and Sindh. Yet their resistance is resolute. The Pakistan military has even entered the Supreme Court building. Wrongly deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, after his house arrest, has said that whatever General Musharraf has been doing is illegal. Chaudhry’s call to the lawyers to rise up in protest has had a determined response. The majority of the judges in the Supreme Court and the high courts of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province have refused to take new oath as ordered by the government.

A message received from Pakistan says, "Cases of Muneer A. Malik, Aitzaz Ahsan, Tariq Mahmood and Ali Ahmed Kurd are serious. Muneer A. Malik, the former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and leader of the lawyers’ movement has been shifted to the notorious Attock Fort. He is being tortured and is under the custody of the military intelligence. Tariq Mahmood, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, was imprisoned in Adiala Jail. No one was allowed to see him and it is reported that he has been shifted to an unknown place. Ali Ahmed Kurd, former vice chair of the Pakistan Bar Council, is in the custody of military intelligence and being kept at an undisclosed place. Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar, is being kept in Adiala Jail in solitary confinement, after torture."

Civil society in Pakistan has urged bar associations all over the world to mobilise public opinion in favour of the judges and lawyers. I believe that the Delhi high court has already passed a resolution to condemn the emergency. Other high courts in the country and the Supreme Court are expected to follow suit.

A creature of America, President General Pervez Musharraf had to “surrender” when the word from Washington was that he would have to be “hammered” to shape. After US President George W. Bush telephoned Musharraf to say that he could not be President and Army chief at the same time, he really had no option except to declare that the elections would be held before February 15, and that he would shed his uniform.

Still, the real credit for this goes to the people of Pakistan whose protest remains undiminished, although it may take time to build up a countrywide movement because Pakistan has never gone through a national movement, as India has. Aitzaz Ahsan who has led the agitation from the front has often told me how they are now going through that process. And all credit to them.

In fact, people in Pakistan who have been under one military rule or the other for almost 50 years, have shown more courage than we, living as a democratic nation for decades, did when emergency was imposed in India (1975-1977). Fear was stalking the country, people were afraid to come out on the streets. The then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi gloated over the fact that people were so timid, and said that not even a dog had barked when emergency was imposed. Little did she realise that the sense of alienation would one day be so strong that she and her Congress Party would be ousted from office, as it happened in 1977. The Opposition secured more than 300 seats in the Lok Sabha, out of 546.

Similarly, Pakistan’s military rulers should realise that the apathy of the people towards Musharraf will grow as the days go by. Even in the “free and fair” polls, when held, his party - the Muslim League (Q) - may not be anywhere in the picture. This will be the people’s catharsis for the silence they have maintained for decades.

The best jihad is to speak the truth in front of an unjust ruler. This is a saying by Prophet Muhammad. Thousands of people in Pakistan have done exactly that. Government repression has been savage and brutal. It has picked up for punishment those lawyers in particular who had won the battle to reinstate Chief Justice Chaudhry. There have been demonstrations during the regimes of the Chief Martial Law Administrators - General Ayub Khan and General Zia-ul Haq. Even General Pervez Musharraf himself experienced one a while ago. But never before has the defiance been so widespread, so resolute and so persistent. Belatedly, Benazir Bhutto, chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has woken up to the task of leading the country to a democratic future. She was under house arrest, but released on Washington’s orders. But suspicions still lurk about her because of the deal she struck with Musharraf for joint civil-military rule. Now that she is leading an alliance of 14 parties for the restoration of democracy, she is in the midst of the battle. Nawaz Sharif’s opposition to her does not make sense. However, the political parties are yet to put their act together. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of the MMA, an alliance of six religious parties, has rightly said that the parties must close their ranks to oust Musharraf.

In India, there is widespread sympathy for the people of Pakistan. I wonder if New Delhi’s policy on Pakistan is being formulated by the Central government or the ministry of external affairs. To refuse a visa to Pakistan railway minister Sheikh Rashid to watch the One-Day cricket match at Mohali was to create a point of digression at a time when all attention should be focused on the battle between the military rulers and the democratic elements. It was a thoughtless act, however undesirable Rashid himself was.

One is getting constant messages from across the border that there are serious differences in the Army over what Musharraf has done. The corps commanders have not been kept fully in the picture. They did not want to write off the civil side completely as Musharraf has done. They reportedly favoured the earlier arrangement which had put the civil elements in the front and the military in the background. It looks as if the same arrangement will be tried again, with Musharraf, if possible, or without him, if necessary. The beginnings are there. After the large-scale killing of students outside Peshawar, there was so much resentment against General Ayub that he had to step down. He wanted to stay but the then Chief of Army Staff, General Yahya Khan, had to ask him to quit. A similar situation can develop in Pakistan.

Elections are bound to be held early because of American pressure. But the people in Pakistan are not sure how free and fair they will be. However, Musharraf should realise that the party is over. The emergency-cum-martial law has proved to be the last straw on the camel’s back. His exit is only a question of time.

NAYAR Kuldip

* FromThe Asian Age, November 13, 2007. Circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire | November 11-14, 2007 | Dispatch No. 2469 - Year 10 running.