Sunday, 4 November 2007

The State of Emergency

Rumours about a possible state of emergency had been flying about for several days, so Musharaf's move to suspend the constitution and, in effect, impose martial law, is not unexpected. The PCO issued by Musharaf keeps the national and provincial assemblies intact and only dismisses the judiciary and imposes tight controls on the media. The reason for this being, of course, that much of the opposition have already resigned from the assemblies and it was in the courts that a battle was being waged against Musharaf's reign. (Here is the text of the declaration.)

Musharaf claims that he is saving Pakistan from suicide, blaming militant violence and the judiciary for paralyzing the government.

Benazir Bhutto, who less than two weeks after her return to Pakistan decided to fly back to Dubai for a vacation, had earlier said that she might delay her vacation because of fears of the imposition of martial law. Then she left anyway and only returned after the state of emergency had been declared, expressing her "surprise" at the step.

So what to make of all this? Here is an article that effectively supports Musharaf's move. To me, it reads like yet another disgusting apology for the dictatorship of Pakistan's colonial elite.

Mr Eterez refers to "young professionals" and businessmen - people from the same thin upper class layer as himself who have benefited from Musharaf's rule the most. He mentions economic growth but doesnt mention the growing disparity in wealth, or the strong inflationary rates that have turned the common man against the government (over 50% and sometimes close to 100% for basic household goods and foodstuff in the period Musharaf was in charge). Furthermore, much of this growth was driven not by Musharaf's policies but by the cash windfall the country received post 9/11 from remittances looking for sanctuary from tougher banking laws in the west and Middle Eastern investment from money from booming oil prices. At the same time privatization has followed at full steam, also providing a windfall for the country's rich, but doing little to provide any kind of relief to the common man. In fact, the reference in the Emergency Declaration to the judiciary blocking "economic development" is an obvious reference to the Supreme Court's ruling against the privatization of the Pakistan Steel Mills - a shocking scandal in which several senior governmnt officials participated to sell of the industry at a fraction of its worth (in return for alleged kickbacks).

Having met and spoken to various businesmen and CEOs of investment firms in Pakistan - the same people who are most enamoured of Musharaf and his economic policies - I have found that while they are for the most part secular in their personal outlook, their virulent nationalism often leaves them obsessed with theories of the coming "decline of the west", their anti-semitism, (one refered me to Henry Ford's "The International Jew" - an anti-semitic text given all the more legitimacy in their eyes for being linked to one of the scions of modern capitalism), and insistence on Pakistan's participation in a 'great game' to dominate the region by using Islamic militants as a tool of foreign policy. They may be believers in capitalism and secularism - but, like the old British colonial elite from whom they took charge of the country - they are no believers in democracy and are full of nothing but contempt for their fellow citizens.

Its fine for Mr Eterez to sit cosily in his London home and extol the virtues of martial law, but about the only achievement of which Musharaf could legitimately boast - the blooming of a free media under his reign - has been undone by this latest move. The press has been stifled - and prison terms will now be imposed on anyone who criticizes the government. A great way to support the growth of "civil society". Conceivably, I could be sentenced to 3 years imprisonment and fined for writing this blog post criticizing the government's move.

This gagging of the press comes in the wake of reporting from Swat where military forces have been surrendering in droves to the militants and giving undertakings not to serve in the armed forces anymore. The militants have been gleefully arranging press conferences and inviting press reporters to photograph the weapons, arms and ammunition - ranging from armoured cars to rocket launchers - that have been falling in to their hands from these mass surrenders. Instead of taking a good hard look at their own tactics and strategies, the army has decided it needs to gag the press in order to "preserve morale".

As President and Chief of the Army, Musharaf has presided over the largest loss of sovereign Pakistani territory since the 1971 war - to the very Islamic militants he nurtured to use as a foreign policy instrument in Afghanistan and Kashmir. This on top of his failed war in Kargil in 1998. At least Yahya Khan had the decency to resign after the 1971 war. Musharaf however refuses to do so despite his complete loss of credibility. If Pakistan is on the path to suicide, as Musharaf claimed in his address yesterday - then he is one of those whose actions are pushing it to the brink.

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