Pakistan: It Could Get Very Messy

On Saturday November 3, 2007, General Pervez Musharraf by his "Proclamation of Emergency" produced what is, in practice, a coup d’état against his own government. It is his second coup. He had come to power on October 12, 1999 in a bloodless coup when, as Chief of Army Staff he took control of the Government. Since then, he has kept the post of Chief of Army Staff while serving as President in violation of the provisions of the Constitution of Pakistan which states that the President can not be a serving military officer. There have been repeated appeals over the years that he resign the military title, but he has resisted doing so. The Proclamation of Emergency was signed not by President Musharraf but by General Pervez Mufarraf, Chief of Army Staff.

In his midnight speech to the nation, constantly replayed, Musharraf said "I see in front of my eyes Pakistan taking a downward trend. I, personally, with all my convictions, and with all the facts available to me, consider that inaction at this moment is suicide for Pakistan, and I cannot allow this country to commit suicide. Therefore, I had to take this action in order to preserve the democratic transition, which I initiated eight years back." General Musharraf added that the Proclamation of Emergency would ensure effective governance, stable political transition, and maintain impetus in efforts to root out extremism and terrorism.

Unfortunately, the opposite has been the case: Effective governance has been weakened as the courts do not function; the political transition has been upset as most political parties oppose the emergency; and extremism and terrorism are increasing

In order to impose a State of Emergency legally, General Musharraf needed the approval of the Pakistan Supreme Court. As the Court refused its approval, Musharraf fired the Chief Justice and seven other judges from the Court- all of whom have been placed under house arrest. The removal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has led to massive protests of lawyers and judges followed by arrests of lawyers, intellectuals, and press people. The Government claims that 1,800 people – mostly lawyers, politicians, and human rights activists – have been put into jail or placed under house arrest. There are, no doubt, a good number of people who have gone into hiding to prevent arrest.

Among those placed under house arrest is Ms Asma Jahangir, president of the independent Human Rights Council of Pakistan in Lahore. Asma Jahangir is a highly respected human rights lawyer who serves as the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. She has received an order to stay confined to her home for 90 days. In an email sent to some newspapers, she said that it was ironic that General Musharrad "had to clamp down on the press and the judiciary to curb terrorism…Those he has arrested are progressive secular-minded people while the terrorists are offered negotiations and ceasefires." At least 70 persons associated with the Pakistan Human Rights Council have been arrested, and arrests continue.

While terrorists were briefly mentioned in Musharraf’s speech presenting the State of Emergency Proclamation, it was the judiciary that was the main target of his justification saying "some members of the judiciary are working at cross purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism". The Constitution is now in abeyance, and an ordinance, without a presentation to Parliament was issued: The Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration (Amendment) Ordinance 2007. This ordinance makes it unlawful to publish anything that "defames, brings into ridicule or disrepute the Head of State." Unfortunately, the ridicule and disrepute have been brought upon the Head of State by himself.

Both the USA and the European Union expressed concern at the imposition of a state of emergency and called for a speedy return to the rule of law. The USA has given some $10 billion in aid to Pakistan since September 2001. Most of the aid is military, largely for equipment, additional pay, and training for the 620,000-strong army. The aid is useful to the Pakistani military, which even without an emergency, plays an important political and economic role in the country. Some in the US Senate have called for a review of such aid, most importantly Patrick J. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee which handles funding for Pakistan. Leahy called for the suspension of aid until "constitutional order, civil liberties and judicial independence are restored."

However, Pakistan is considered too important a player in Afghanistan to limit aid to its military. There are fears that the Pakistan army could break into factions on the basis of geographic origin. These are days of rumours of a possible army coup against Musharraf by other army officers fearful of the cut off of aid. Musharraf was born in Delhi, India and came to Pakistan as a youth. Thus he has no geographic base within army leadership. He is appreciated by the higher officers and has placed officers loyal to him at key posts. But no one is irreplaceable if the army were to loose some of its power and wealth because of Musharraf.

Currently, the army is used to keeping order in the cities and preventing demonstrations from the political parties opposed to Musharraf, most notably the Pakistan People’s Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif, who had also been twice Prime Minister before being overthrown by General Musharraf.

Meanwhile the North-West Frontier Province and the tribal areas on the frontier with Afghanistan are increasingly outside the control of the central government – a situation more complex than simply the presence of Al Qaeds and the Taliban- an issue which merits separate analysis.

The possession by Pakistan of nuclear weapons and long-range delivery systems transforms the situation in Pakistan from a national matter to one of world importance. There has been a tendency, especially in India, to downplay the dangers of the situation in Pakistan lest people start to panic. Iran is also watching the situation closely, but its press follows the Indian lead. Without panic but with clear awareness of the dangers present, we need to continue watching closely.

Rene Wadlow is the Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, of the Association of World Citizens, and Editor of