CIVIL SOCIETY PAKISTAN

August 11, 2007

Emergency: an escape route?

Filed under: DOMESTIC — civilsocietypakistan @ 1:01 am

DAWN - the Internet Edition

AUGUST 10, 2007

EDITORIAL

OFFICIAL quarters have denied that a state of emergency is on the cards, though reports in some TV channels on the night between Wednesday and Thursday were scary. One channel, quoting “official sources”, even reported that President Pervez Musharraf had signed the instrument of emergency. Whether the rumours turn out to be true or false, the question remains: does the declaration of a state of emergency serve the interest of Pakistan? Whether it also advances the interests of the military rulers is of secondary importance, though a relationship between the two does exist. The implications of such a move are profound and could shape the future of politics for a long time to come. In some ways, the emergency could prove dangerous for the state and strengthen those very forces and political elements the government is afraid of. In the case of the political elements, the judiciary’s newly found independence could help them re-enter the political arena with confidence and that is bound to upset the generals’ apple cart. Also of vital importance is the petition challenging President Musharraf’s re-election bid while in uniform.

A declaration of emergency will have profound constitutional and political implications and throw the nation back on the freedom scale more than a decade back. The emergency’s approval by parliament within 30 days of a presidential declaration, as required under Article 232, is a formality that should pose no problem for the ruling coalition. However, once armed with the powers flowing from Article 232, the government could resort to options that are frightful and could cripple democracy and stifle basic freedoms. The biggest casualty could be press freedom, which has been the most precious and laudable feature of the present political set-up. Also to be affected adversely will be political activity, especially the right to assembly. The emergency cannot be extended beyond a year, and the relevant Article authorises the government to extend the life of parliament and thus delay the general election to which the nation has been looking forward with a great deal of interest. The emergency will also curtail the powers of the provincial governments and enable the centre to dictate to them.

Several reasons are being cited for the government’s possible use of the emergency option, and these include the political implications of the independence of the higher judiciary, the rising wave of extremist violence, especially suicide bombings, the kidnapping of, and attacks on, Chinese nationals in Pakistan, and the American threats to invade the tribal area. It is not clear in what way the emergency will enhance the military-led government’s ability to meet these challenges more effectively. Already, the powers at its disposal are enormous because the generals control both the military and the civilian apparatus of the state. If the combination of these powers has not helped the government meet these challenges, in what precise and practical way can the imposition of emergency come to the rescue of a regime perceived to be beleaguered? A postponement of elections will only add to the prevailing feeling of confusion and uncertainty and make it more difficult for the nation to pick up the thread of democracy yet again and make a success of it. The threats facing the nation are grave, and only a government armed with a mandate from the people — a mandate secured through a fair and free election — can stem the tide of extremism and meet the threats to Pakistan’s sovereignty from many quarters.

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