Generals have, unfortunately, ruled Pakistan for more than half the 60 years since the country’s formation, and Gen. Pervez Musharraf is the first military ruler to have tasted a blow from the judiciary.
By reinstating Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has restored people’s confidence in the judicial system, which was eroded when Musharraf, after coming to power, ordered the judges to take a fresh oath of office swearing allegiance to military rule. Many judges refused and resigned in protest.
Musharraf cannot blame anyone but himself for the embarrassment. It was him who treated Chaudhry like dirt. The country’s top judge was called by the President to his army residence in Rawalpindi on March 9 and was given a laundry list of charges ranging from ‘using influence to get his son a job’ to ‘fiddling petrol expenses’. Chaudhry rejected that and defied the order to quit. Subsequently, he was detained for about five hours while arrangements were made in Islamabad for a speedy appointment of an acting chief justice.
Musharraf’s motive behind getting rid of Chaudhry is becoming clear now. The general wanted a chief justice of his choice who could allow further constitutional manipulations paving the way for him to get re-elected by current assemblies before they are dissolved for a general election at the end of the year. Other reasons for the trauma the chief justice was subjected to are understandable. Chaudhry entertained human rights cases, confronted police brutality and made the government accountable for people who had gone missing during Pakistan’s “war on terror”. To the utter chagrin of the ruling elite, Chaudhry blocked the sale of state-run Pakistan Steel Mills, citing “commissions” on the part of some state functionaries. He also blocked a big property development in a scenic area near Islamabad that was backed by powerful politicians but opposed by environmentalists.
The setback for Musharraf could not have come at a worse time. The President is already under fire over mishandling the Lal Masjid episode. Neither “hostages” nor “suicide belts” were found inside the mosque. But the find of a super-bazar of sophisticated arms did put a big question mark over the efficiency and credibility of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.
The Musharraf administration’s decision to close down Red Mosque after a suicide attack killed 15 people including seven cops is being seen as the government’s failure to resolve the issue. If bombings can be carried out at will in the heart of the country’s capital, one can imagine what the law and order situation would be in small cities. Worshippers’ demand last Friday to restore the jailed preacher as the mosque’s caretaker, their attempt to repaint the place of worship red and subsequent violent riots point to the fact that the army action has failed to crush the movement. Revenge attacks on army targets have so far claimed over 250 lives. Pro-Taliban militants in North Waziristan have already junked a controversial 10-month-old peace deal with Islamabad, saying that the government is violating it by manning checkpoints. Crises galore. The battle for Musharraf to remain in charge has become tough in three weeks.
After pumping billions into Pakistan’s military might to subjugate pro-Taliban elements, the US has realised now that Musharraf’s policy of non-engagement in the lawless tribal areas along its border with Afghanistan has been a complete failure and allowed Al Qaeda to regroup. Tempers are flaring after a US threat of military action inside Pakistan. President George Bush’s spokesman Tony Snow even refused to answer in affirmative when asked whether Bush would first seek authorisation from Musharraf.
Several air strikes by the Pakistan Army have killed many fighters along with civilians in the tribal areas. But if Musharraf really does take both gloves off in the region, that will just increase the likelihood of a split in the army. In the words of Hamid Gul, ex-boss of the ISI, “the officer’s cadre is liberal, secular … but the rank and file of the army were never secular, they were always religious.”
It is surprising to note that before Musharraf took the mantle, suicide bombings and other deadly forms of terrorism were alien to Pakistan. After eight years of military government, radicalism and intolerance are in the ascendant. The indirect army rule is only exacerbating Pakistan’s problems.
Musharraf should read the writing on the wall. A graceful exit now sounds much better an option than putting the nation of 150 million through a mini civil war in the months to come.