February 3, 2008


Filed under: MILITARY RULE — civilsocietypakistan @ 12:29 am
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FEBRUARY 03, 2008 

Ghazi Salahuddin

When President Pervez Musharraf returned from Europe earlier this week, the official spin was that the mission of repairing Pakistan’s image had fairly been accomplished. But the reverberations of what he said abroad, in his interviews with the media and in his speeches at different functions, preceded his arrival. And now, the reactions are beginning to escalate. Does he need to embark on another journey forthwith to defend himself against this crescendo of protest following his European journey?

Look at how his abundant indiscretions while in Europe have further stimulated a challenge to his authority. What he had said about the deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to justify his firing of the higher judiciary has validated a strong response from Justice Chaudhry. In his open letter to world leaders that has been widely covered in the international media, the deposed chief justice has joined issue with Musharraf “to put the record straight”. Interestingly, some leading newspapers of the world devoted more space to this open letter than did most of the Pakistani newspapers.

One hopes that Musharraf’s media handlers now realise the mistake of that almost obsessed focus on the deposed chief justice and an attempt to paint him as a villain. So much so they distributed a 15-page letter, containing allegations of corruption and involvement in politics against Justice Chaudhry, among western journalists when Musharraf held a press conference in London. It had to be counter-productive. The issue of he sacking of the judiciary has become more flaming an issue now.

On Friday, The New York Times, in an editorial titled ‘Pakistani PR’, said: “With all the problems that Pakistani president faces at home, he still found time to spend eight days in Europe last week, assuring world leaders everything is fine in his nuclear-armed state. But everything is not fine, and the cracks in his sunny public-relations façade were not hard to see”. The message, of course, is that the visit was ill-advised. Leaders of countries like Pakistan go on foreign tours to perk up their image at home. In this case, the remittances from this tour have quite embarrassing.

In another extraordinary development, the retired military officers, including some very respected and nationally honoured individuals, met again on Thursday to demand Musharraf’s resignation and there were hints that they could join the protest that has been mounted by the lawyers and the civil society. Speaking to reporters, former Air Force chief Asghar Khan said: “We do not recognise any electoral process under Musharraf and the present Election Commission”. Former Chief of the Army Staff Aslam Beg said that Musharraf was the only impediment to democracy.

Naturally, the retired officers were not amused by Musharraf’s reaction to their earlier meeting that called for his resignation. You would remember that in one of his interviews given in Europe, he had hit out at those retired generals who had said that they no longer had any confidence in him. Musharraf called them “insignificant” and “paper tigers”. “I am not even bothered by them”, he had said.

Well, the retired military officers have this time made a demand that should not fail to bother the president, if only in an emotional sense. They have not only urged him to step down but to hand over power to, yes, the deposed chief justice. Incidentally, Thursday’s meeting of the Pakistan Ex-servicemen Society was held on the same day that the lawyers in the country were observing ‘Youm-e-Iftikhar’ with protest marches and meetings.

That remark by the president in Brussels that the west should not have an “obsession” with democracy and human rights also created its long distance backlash. Here was a hint about how he feels about democracy and human rights while promising, at the same time, a successful transition to democracy.

Though it came almost at the end of Musharraf’s trip but his encounter with senior journalist M. Ziauddin in London stands out as an example of a leader’s tactlessness in public. First, he lost his cool when the journalist, respected for his integrity and professionalism, asked a difficult question. Then, speaking to a gathering of Pakistanis, he suggested that people should take care of such individuals. That a serving president should endorse a not-so-veiled threat of violence against a journalist, that too in London, is truly disturbing.

At the end of his trip to Europe, he addressed a press conference in London in which only Pakistani journalists were invited. This was the right occasion to offer some explanation for his angry response to a question that could be an embarrassment for the government in a foreign country. His argument in this regard, often invoked by the official functionaries, was: “We must learn from Indians who despite many bad things happening in their own country …. were still claiming to shine”.

Very interesting. But why should only the newsmen be advised to learn from the Indians? Why can’t our military rulers learn from Indian democracy? Why can’t Musharraf himself learn from the Indian example of an independent and constitutionally upright election commission?

A report published on Thursday revealed that while in Davos, Musharraf had met Aitzaz Ahsan’s daughter Saman to persuade her father to give up opposition to his regime. Saman reportedly told her friends after the meeting that the president had asked her to convince her father “not to come in my way”. This, then, has been the great refrain: don’t come in my way. Surely this was the message given to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on March 9 and, in a manner of saying, the serving generals present in that meeting may have served as arguments in defence of Musharraf’s ‘case’. Will the earlier arguments remain valid now that the president has removed his uniform?

Incidentally, the 90-day detention period of Aitzaz Ahsan, who is also President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, ended late at Thursday night, though not without an abortive attempt to unconstitutionally extend his detention. There was that disgusting visual account of plainclothes policemen trying to push him– a spectacle that should serve as another example of how our rulers deal with distinguished and highly revered individuals. Anyhow, Aitzaz was likely to serve as a rallying point for the struggle of the revival of the sacked judiciary and that was the reason that fresh orders of his detention had reportedly been issued at the time of the writing of these lines.

Meanwhile, the elections are drawing closer and the world is watching with apprehensions to see if the exercise


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