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The U.S. Game Plan in Pakistan

The United States has been oddly silent on the central, precipitating factor in Pakistan’s crisis: Musharraf’s use of the State of Emergency to move against the Supreme Court that was poised to disallow his election to another term as president.

The most likely interpretation is that the U.S. will disregard the illegality of Musharraf’s bid for another term as president if he takes office as a civilian and lifts the State of Emergency prior to parliamentary elections.

It looks like that’s what’s going on. And that probably means the judiciary gets hung out to dry.

In John Negroponte’s statement before leaving Pakistan there wasn’t a word about restoring the Supreme Court, releasing the lawyers and judges from jail, or maintaining an independent judiciary.

But there was a reference to Musharraf’s second term:

We welcome President Musharraf’s announcement that elections will take place in January, a commitment he repeated to me yesterday in categorical terms. He also repeated his commitment to retire from his army post before commencing his second presidential term, and we urge him to do so as soon as possible. [emph. added]

The only people getting a leg up from the United States are the political parties, by extension Bhutto and her PPP:

Unfortunately, the recent police actions against protestors, suppression of the media, and the arrests of political and human rights leaders run directly counter to the reforms that have been undertaken in recent years. Their continuation undermines the progress Pakistan has made.

I urged the Government to stop such actions, lift the state of emergency, and release all political detainees.

With typical calculation, Bhutto’s PPP also appears willing to let the judiciary twist in the wind, According to the newspaper Dawn:

[A PPP spokesman] did not give a clear reply when asked if the PPP would accept a judgment by the present Supreme Court upholding Gen Musharraf’s election. The real question was of the notification of the result which had been stayed by the ‘previous court’, he said.

The fact that the lawyers aren’t getting lip service either from the United States or the PPP indicates that the last thing we want is for a straightforward legal challenge to the constitutionality of Musharraf’s second term to upset the applecart.

I guess our vision of democracy does not accommodate the idea of an activist judiciary seeking to enforce constitutional limits on an executive that sees itself as above the law.

The back of the hand approach to Pakistan’s lawyers is significant, and not just in a Hey! Look-who-got-shafted-this-time perspective on great power and machine politics in Pakistan.

The nucleus of prosperous, bourgeois Pakistan’s drive for civilian rule, political and theological moderation, and democracy is not the corrupt political parties headed by Bhutto and Sharif.

It’s the lawyers and judges who have been fighting for law-abiding, civilian, secular, and democratic rule since the beginning of this year that have been taking it on the chin.

And they are probably so estranged from Musharraf by now that there’s no concession that can reconcile them to him, and allow him to claim a second presidential term with the genuine backing of the judiciary.

What to do?

Maybe a dose of internal exile is what the doctor ordered!

According to the University of Pittsburgh’s Jurist legal news site, the deposed head of the Supreme Court, Iftkhar Mohammed Chaudrhy, expects Musharraf to try and remove him from his official residence and send him to a city called Quetta.

And he doesn’t mean to go quietly:

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper quoted Chaudhry as saying:

“I am not interested in going to Quetta or elsewhere and it will be an act of abduction and forcible detention for which the secretary for interior, Islamabad’s commissioner [of police], deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner on duty shall be responsible along with law-enforcement agencies…Presently, I am holding the post of Chief Justice of Pakistan under the Constitution and I am occupying the official accommodation.”

Chaudhry is not formally under house arrest but did say that he was not allowed to leave his house and his children were being prevented from attending school and university.

In a separate statement to the Northwest Frontier Province Bar Association Wednesday Chaudhry said that he was one of over 60 superior court judges who had refused to take PCO oaths and still legally held office.

I suppose Musharraf plans to pack the courts, grit his teeth at the rejection of the new legal system’s legitimacy by a significant number of Pakistan’s lawyers and judges, and expect that their discordant, principled voices will be drowned out by the babble of greedy, corrupt, and power-hungry politicos on the hustings come January.

But having a vocal, educated, prosperous, organized, and terminally alienated group with a legitimate sense of grievance at the heart of Pakistan’s bourgeoisie does not bode well for democracy American Style in Pakistan, for Musharraf, whatever military leader follows him…or for any opposition party that cuts a cynical deal with Musharraf for a share of power.

A barrister recently released from detention made the point eloquently and forcefully.

From Dawn:

PESHAWAR, Nov 18: Barrister Baachaa, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, has said that all stakeholders should agree on the one-point agenda of ridding the country of the military dictator.

Barrister Baachaa was sent to the Haripur central prison under the Maintenance of Public Order and released on Friday night along with other lawyers after remaining in captivity for 13 days. In a statement issued here, he said that any politician or party supporting the present dictatorial regime would betray the struggle of lawyers who had made innumerable sacrifices during the last seven months.

Barrister Baachaa said that at a time when the political leadership of the country had failed the people of Pakistan, it was the lawyers who took the initiative and launched a movement in the country. He said people from every walk of life, the print and electronic media in particular, supported the lawyers and forced the once mighty General Musharraf to get off his ‘high horse’ and hold out an olive branch to the same person he himself had accused of looting the national wealth.

Barrister Baachaa highlighted the achievements of lawyers across the country and regretted that even at this crucial juncture when the survival of a democratic Pakistan was at stake, politicians were engaged in point scoring and were interested only in securing a place for themselves in the future set up. [emph. added]

It will be interesting to see if Bhutto, after weighing the lawyers in the balance against the army, the United States, and her own ambition, decides to ignore them, exploit them, or betray them.

CHINA HAND edits the very interesting website China Matters


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