Sunday, October 7, 2007

Fat Chance: Will Pakistan's Supreme Court Overturn Musharraf's Victory?

General Pervez Musharraf won "a landslide victory" Saturday in his apparently illegal campaign to remain President of Pakistan. With all but a few of the opposition parliamentarians having resigned in protest or choosing not to vote, Musharraf gained 384 out of a possible 702 votes in Pakistan's electoral college. 352 votes would have been enough to win. But Musharraf will have to wait at least a week and a half to find out whether the result has any more meaning than a photograph of a girl kissing his photograph.

The Supreme Court allowed the election to take place even though it has failed to rule on the question of Musharraf's eligibility; hearings on that issue are scheduled to resume October 17th. But it seems unlikely that the Court would disqualify Musharraf after the fact, when it declined to do so before the election, especially since doing so now would surely plunge the country into political chaos.

Protests led by pro-democracy lawyers took place on Saturday in the four provincial capitals: Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta.

The Daily Times described the violence in Peshawar:
Lawyers in Peshawar protested in front of the Frontier Assembly building by preventing members of the assembly from voting. An armoured police vehicle rammed into the lawyers, fracturing [Peshawar High Court Bar Association] President Abdul Latif Afridi’s leg and injuring General Secretary Ishtiaq Ibrahim and the Town [Deputy Supervisor of Police].

The lawyers then set fire to the police vehicle and pelted fire fighters, police and the assembly building with stones until police tear-gassed the gathering.

Afridi told Daily Times that the lawyers had lodged an FIR [First Information Report -- a criminal complaint] against [Senior Superintendent of Police] (Operations) Mohammad Tahir and [Deputy Supervisor of Police] Qasim, as they had ordered the attack on the lawyers. Chief Capital Police Abdul Majeed Marwat, however, termed the incident as an accident. Peshawar lawyers have called for a complete strike on October 8 to protest the police violence.
There were reports of scattered minor violence and police over-reactions in the other provincial capitals as well.

Meanwhile, back at the Supreme Court, the case against Musharraf rests on three key points, as summarized by Carlotta Gall:
Two of his opponents have raised constitutional objections to him being elected by the outgoing assemblies, running for what is in effect a third presidential term, and running for elected office while still holding the post of chief of army staff. The lawyers movement, which has opposed Musharraf's eight years of military rule on constitutional grounds, and all the main opposition parties, are backing the legal challenges.
Even as it acknowledged Musharraf's hold on the presidency, the Daily Times posed a key question:
What if the verdict is against President Musharraf seeking re-election from the same assemblies the second time?
Such a verdict is entirely possible, theoretically. But in practice, it seems most remote. In other words, the rule of law is fine, as a luxury, but the "doctrine of necessity" once again seems about to assert its priority.

In my opinion -- widely shared, it seems -- all questions which ascribe drama or unpredictability to the October 17 resumption of Supreme Court hearings on this matter are entirely hypothetical.

Unless I am much mistaken, the election is a fait accompli -- and it has been for quite some time.

This "electoral process" -- this "transition to democracy" -- is predicated on Musharraf's agreement with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who has been living in exile for the past 8 years after being charged with corruption after Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup. The infamous "reconciliation ordinance" which was secretly negotiated and quickly made law, grants amnesty to former government officials, and thus paves the way for Bhutto's return to national politics.

As Andrew Buncombe and Omar Waraich report in The Independent, the "reconciliation" has not come about all by itself:
For the past two years the US and Britain have played a crucial role in brokering a power-sharing agreement between the military leader and Ms Bhutto's PPP and – they would argue – nudging Pakistan towards civilian rule. The efforts involved countless rounds of talks in Pakistan as well as in Dubai and London, where Ms Bhutto has homes. According to one senior source privy to the bargaining: "The British acted as facilitators, and brought us nearer to each other. Whenever we got stuck, they played a very constructive role in reviving the talks."

Central to the negotiations was Mark Lyall Grant, former British high commissioner in Islamabad and currently head of the political directorate at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The Eton- and Cambridge-educated diplomat was a well-regarded figure in Islamabad, a reputation that was helped by his fluency in Urdu and his family's connection with Pakistan. The town of Faisalbad was originally named Lyallpur, after Sir Charles James Lyall, an ancestor of Mr Lyall Grant's. In recent months, Tom Drew, a political counsellor at the High Commission, also became involved, often shuttling back and forth between the various parties.

The outcome of the exhaustive negotiations was announced on Friday. General Musharraf signed into law an amnesty that opened the way for Ms Bhutto to return to Pakistan, avoid prosecution and – as seems very possible – to become Prime Minister once again following parliamentary elections next January.
We've seen the pattern so many times: Bring in corrupt and discredited politicians! Prepare secret agreements in secret meetings and make them law in an instant! Call it democracy -- and if anybody dares to point out the difference, just run them over with a humvee!!

And so it goes in Pakistan, where they're building an impregnable fortress of democracy.

According to the New York Times, the photos at right and below show
"A plainclothes police officer in Karachi detained an opponent of Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Saturday during protests against the re-election of General Musharraf as the president of Pakistan."
Chris Floyd doesn't mince any words about what these photos show:
This is the portrait of authoritarian, militarist "managed democracy" under a "unified executive" regime. Coming soon to a neighborhood near you -- if it's not there already.