Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Pakistan explodes

The row over the dismissal of the pragmatic Pakistani Supreme Court justice has turned violent. Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry had maintained the independence of the court, often standing up to the dictatorial power of Pervez Musharraf. As I blogged about a while back, since the chief justice's dismissal, there have been fairly nonviolent protests my lawyers in Karachi — Pakistan's largest city, in the south — and elsewhere. This past weekend the protests worsened as government loyalist forces clashed with protesters. Soon unrest came and tens died.

Restraints have been put on the Pakistani media's coverage; protests have been all but quelled; and the police has been given the authority to shoot dead anyone trying to spark up more protest — nonviolent or otherwise. Chaudhry, meanwhile, has been marching in protest. A key Supreme Court official was found murdered in his house early on Monday, certainly not a coincidence. Fearful of the chaos, businesses have had to close in several major cities, effectively paralyzing Pakistan.

Speculation has consumed western coverage of the events, as Musharraf's legitimacy is at stake. He says he will follow the Supreme Court's electoral decision — whenever the rigged election takes place — and his ousting of Chaudhry shows that while he may indeed follow the court, he will make sure it is on his side. His message is this: no one shall challenge my power. Of course since Pakistan is supposedly an ally in the American 'war on terror', the US has remained virtually silent on the issue, let alone the democracy bashing by a leader (Musharraf) marginalized by the radicals and the normal people seeing his country too close to the not-well-liked United States.
Here are some of Musharraf's options:

Broadly speaking, the emerging consensus is that the president has four options.

* To ride out the crisis in the hope that the protests run out of steam. The experience of Lahore suggests that is not working.

* He could simply accept that he had been wrongly advised, reinstate the chief justice, and look for a scapegoat. But many say it is too late for that now.

* He could declare a state of emergency and impose martial law. That might lead to violence on the streets, and to international condemnation, including from his strategic ally the United States.

* He could reach out to the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto, generally seen as the most popular political force in the country. According to the rumoured outlines of such a deal, corruption charges against Ms Bhutto would be dropped and she would be allowed to return from exile, if the PPP supported General Musharraf's presidency. However, the PPP says it will not accept the president if he stays on as army chief.

Meanwhile the attacks continue across the nation. Pakistan is a nuclear state, and its stability is at stake. If Musharraf cannot rule, someone else must. The worst case scenario would be if extremists took over. Then the world would see real madmen with nukes.

Technorati technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments: