Thursday, November 22, 2007

Imran Khan Released; Musharraf Election Upheld; Commonwealth Suspends Pakistan

UPDATED in several places, with more updates to come. Here are the headlines:

* Pakistan has been suspended from the Commonwealth in the wake of the state of emergency imposed by President General Pervez Musharraf.

* The hand-picked Supreme Court has dismissed the last of the six petitions against Musharraf's clearly illegal "re-election".

* Imran Khan, former cricket hero, now opposition politician, has been released from detention, along with thousands of other political leaders and activists, many of whom were promptly re-arrested. Thousands of political opponents have been newly arrested as well according to some reports.

* President General Musharraf has issued an order saying his declaration of emergency cannot be challenged in any court.

* Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is apparently preparing to return to Pakistan. He was arrested and deported when he tried to do so in September.
KAMPALA: A Commonwealth ministerial committee Thursday decided to suspend Pakistan from the 53-nation bloc pending the return of the rule of law following the imposition of emergency rule earlier this month.

"CMAG (Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group) has suspended Pakistan forthwith from the council pending the return of the rule of law and democracy," Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon [photo] told reporters.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency on November 3, placing the chief justice under house arrest, detaining lawyers, rights activists and opposition members and curbing press freedoms.
This report comes to us from GEO TV, which has been forced off the air in Pakistan (and even elsewhere[!]), but whose website is still online.

Graham Usher, writing in Cairo's Al-Ahram Weekly, skips past some of the most vital historical context, and certainly takes the public diplomacy a bit too seriously, but he still manages an insightful analysis:
Prior to Negroponte's coming, the Pakistani leader had given two reasons for martial law. One was to curb a surge of Islamic militancy sweeping from Pakistan's borderlands with Afghanistan to the settled North West Frontier Province. And the second was to purge an "overactive" judiciary that was making governance impossible.

The first reason is spurious. Senior army officers admit martial law grants them no more powers to combat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda than they had previously. And the second has been accomplished. The US has quietly agreed to gloss over the sacking of Supreme Court judges -- including Pakistan Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohamed Chaudhry -- so long as Musharraf lifts martial law, steps down as army chief and holds free elections.

But Musharraf is not interested in free elections. He wants to rig them so an absolute majority can indemnify him against actions -- like the imposition of martial law -- he now concedes were "constitutionally illegal". On 16 November, he swore in a caretaker government stuffed with cronies to ensure that end. And on 19 November a new sanitised Supreme Court dismissed five out of six petitions challenging Musharraf's presidential "election" in October.
The sixth petition has been dismissed now too, according to AFP:
Pakistan's purged Supreme Court demolished the last hurdle to President Pervez Musharraf's re-election Thursday, clearing the way for him to become a civilian leader after eight years of army rule.

Loaded with compliant judges since Musharraf imposed a state of emergency nearly three weeks ago, the court took less than an hour to dismiss the final legal challenge to his victory in last month's presidential election.

Officials said he would now honour his repeated vow to quit as army chief and be sworn into office for another five years once his re-election is ratified -- although he would likely wait until early next week to do so.

"The petition is dismissed," Supreme Court chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar ruled.

More from Graham Usher:
[Benazir] Bhutto has filed for political divorce. Asked whether she could resume a dialogue with Musharraf, she answered: "I can't see how I can team up with somebody who talked to me about a roadmap to democracy and [then] imposed martial law".

Instead she is appealing to other opposition leaders -- including her old nemesis ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif -- to forge a "unified front" to foil Musharraf's attempts to hold "fake" elections. But given the enormous distrust sown by her botched tryst with the regime, it's not clear whether the leaders will bite or whether the Americans any longer see her as useful.
The functional understatement in the above passage is, of course, the "not clear".

Nothing is clear in Pakistan at the moment, except the public's feelings for President General Musharraf and his declaration of emergency.

Usher's conclusion seems bang-on:
US officials talk darkly of terminating all aid if their turbulent ward refuses to play ball. But it's more bluster than bang, says Zaffar Abbas, another analyst. "Musharraf's gamble is that Washington needs him more than he needs them."

He may be right. Seventy-five per cent of all supplies to US forces in Afghanistan go through Pakistan. And the more America ratchets up tensions with Iran, Russia and Central Asia the more vital Islamabad becomes as a regional ally. There is only one case where Washington could exert leverage, says Rizvi. "If the opposition could mount street protests against the regime on a sustained basis, this would rattle the army. The Americans could then tell Musharraf to back off or else".

But so far protests have been muted and the army has shown absolute loyalty to their commander. As long as that's so, "Musharraf can hang on," says Rizvi. And America will hang on to him, even though it knows "deeply flawed" elections will do nothing to redress the crisis of legitimacy that assails the Pakistani state and which remains the principle political cause behind the growth of the Taliban. There is of course an irony here.

For six years, Washington placed all its bets on one man, one institution and one military solution to combat Islamic militancy in Pakistan. On 3 November that institution empowered that man to impose that solution -- not against the Taliban but against its own people.
People of goodwill and good cricket all over the world are happy to see Imran Khan free.

As captain of Pakistan's World Cup winning side, then as a philanthropist, and now as a truly independent politician he has inspired hope and goodwill far beyond the bounds of his own country. (He's even chancellor of the UK's Bradford University!)

Imran Khan's release may have been an empty gesture, and he may not be free for long, but I would be remiss not to report this teeny bit of very good news. AFP says:
In a bid to show the emergency is easing, Pakistani authorities freed cricket hero Imran Khan late Wednesday, and said more than 5,000 lawyers, opposition party workers and human rights activists had also been released.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the releases were a "good step" but that more action was required.
Yes indeed, more action is required. Some reports have indicated that the release of thousands of political prisoners was not only timed to generate sympathy for the regime but also to coincide with the fresh arrest of thousands of other political activists, and the prompt re-arrests of some of those who had supposedly been freed.

Arab News has the story about the newly minted ordinance barring any court from challenging Musharraf's declaration of emergency:
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf issued an ordinance saying the emergency rule cannot be challenged in any court. The order was a fresh move to bolster his position ...

Yesterday’s ordinance amends the constitution to specify that the imposition of emergency rule was “validly made,” and “shall not be called in question in any court or forum on any ground whatsoever.”

Dr. Moeed Pirzada writing for India's Khaleej Times from Karachi:
We are all standing, pushing and shoving, outside the offices of Jang, Pakistan's largest paper. This private compound, off the famous II Chundrigarh Road, was packed to the last inch. We are here to protest the continuing ban on country's largest TV network.

Most of us work for either the Jang, The News or the GEO, but I spot faces from the Dawn and the CNBC and other TV channels. Like everyone around me, I had two candles, one in each hand. Flames tremble in Karachi's evening breeze and we struggle to keep them alive; for they are: Flames of Freedom.

Surrounded by cameras and large plasma screens that capture and display our gyrating bodies, we all are singing: “jeenay do, jeenay do, logo ko zinda rahnain do (...let us live, let us live...let people live their lives)". These are the only screens on which we can see ourselves; all the GEO channels — even the sports and entertainment — have been banned. On three sides, the walls of the compound surround us, and towards the only exit: policemen look on, amused. Like the media in Pakistan, we are also under siege.
It's a good column. Hint, hint.

There's a lot going on. Expect more updates soon.