Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Pakistan: Opposition, Not a State of Emergency Can Save Musharraf - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

On 14 August, 2007, Pakistan celebrated its 60th anniversary of its establishment as an independent state. It is as if the Pakistanis have not experienced enough security problems (in reference to the events at the Red Mosque) and difficulties that the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has had to face. However as soon as the celebrations kicked off, and the sky lit with fireworks above the parliament building in Islamabad, rain fell heavily and transformed the Pakistani streets into quagmires.

This anniversary came a week after the Pakistani President was overwhelmed with confusion as to whether to declare a state of emergency. Within 24 hours, two contradictory pieces of information were leaked. On August 8, before noon, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said that the Pakistani government had drawn up plans to declare a state of emergency in the country. Many considered this decision a step that had not been carefully thought out to maintain Musharraf in power.

But in the early hours of August 8, 2007, rather than declaring a state of emergency, which was expected to be announced at 3am, Musharraf cancelled everything. The official explanation was that the president rejected the advice of his legal advisers who encouraged him to impose the state of emergency. However, this explanation was unconvincing. How can advisers give such advice to judges at a time when Pakistan’s Supreme Court cancelled the decisions taken by the President, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, in an unprecedented case in Pakistan?

In light of this confusion, contradictory information was leaked, including that which claimed that the state of emergency would go into effect after midnight on August 8, which was followed by news saying that the decision would be announced at 3am on August 8, and that the state of emergency would remain in place for a year. Then news was leaked that the state of emergency may be applied for three months and only to specific areas. Meanwhile, at 2am in Pakistan on August 8, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice contacted President Musharraf and urged him not to impose a state of emergency. Last Thursday morning, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said that the government considered a state of emergency but decided to against it. However, the secretary general of the Pakistan Muslim League, Syed Mushahid Hussain, one of Musharraf’s proponents, said that “those who advised the president to impose a state of emergency are the same incompetent advisors who told him [the president] to suspend the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chowdhury on March 9, 2007”.

In recent days, this hesitation, which is now being experienced by the Pakistani president, has started to manifest whether by declaring the state of emergency or withdrawing it, or in his participation in the activities of the Jirga joint meeting held in Kabul, where conferees questioned for four days whether President Musharraf would be attending. Nonetheless, he attended the final meeting.

The cause of Musharraf’s confusing crisis may be due to the fact that the leaders of the international community, the US in particular, have started questioning Musharraf’s significance as a key ally in the War on Terrorism. Although they continue to praise him publicly, they have begun to reconsider the options available to them in the event of his departure. In addition, Washington, in particular, has been courting the leader of Pakistan People’s Party, Benazir Bhutto, as a potential alternative to Musharraf. In fact, Bhutto is eager to return to- and participate in- power because she realizes that her absence outside Pakistan for another five years and lack of authority would mean the end of the People’s Party, which has already begun to dismantle and lose its popularity among the Pakistani public opinion. Then there is the army…

So far, the army has continued to support Musharraf and there are thirty generals who are directly indebted to him for reaching this high-level rank. Despite their strong personal loyalty to him, some signs have appeared indicating their doubts regarding his inability to manage the political crisis that Pakistan has been experiencing since March, resulting in a decline in the President’s popularity and a reflection of these two matters on the reputation of the army as a strong institution. According to informed sources, senior army commanders have advised him to give up the idea of imposing a state of emergency, and he heeded their advice.

The confusion surrounding Musharraf’s conduct is due to the continuous challenging of his authority and credibility at the hands of the Supreme Court. After reinstating the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammed Chowdhury, with a majority of 10 votes to three, on August 3 it decided to release Javid Hashmi on bail, who is close to the former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In October 2003, Hashmi was arrested following a press conference that he held, during which he read out a letter that he claimed to have received in the mail from some military officers at the general headquarters [GHQ] calling for an investigation into the corruption of the armed forces and criticizing Musharraf and his relationship with US President George W. Bush. In April, 2004, he was sentenced to 23 years in jail for inciting a mutiny in the army and forging documents.

The other warning that worried Musharraf was the decision of the Supreme Court to entertain the petition submitted by Nawaz Sharif himself questioning the legality of various executive orders passed by Musharraf against Sharif since Musharraf seized power on October 12, 1999, including the order banishing Nawaz Sharif from Pakistan and disqualifying him from standing in elections.

Some of the remarks made by a number of judges during the course of the hearing have given reason to fear that the Supreme Court might rule against Musharraf in this case too because if the court ruled that all the anti-Nawaz orders of Musharraf were unconstitutional, this could shake the very legal basis of Musharraf’s rule since coming to power.

Then came advice from some of his civil and security advisers that he could protect himself from the repercussions of this new crisis by resorting to imposing a state of emergency under the pretense of the deteriorating conditions in the tribal areas and the [North West] Frontier Province because of the increasing terrorist operations carried out by jihadists, which have been on the rise since the Red Mosque operation.

Nevertheless, those who are well-informed about the Pakistani constitution state that the constitution does allow for the president to declare a state of emergency in the event that Pakistan is faced with an external threat or if its internal security is endangered by non-national elements. But the Pakistani government cannot accuse India in this case of threatening its security; especially as relations between the two countries are improving. As for internal security, those who fought in the Red Mosque were Pakistanis and were not elements of foreign organizations. Moreover, there are also the recent problems in North Waziristan, as five soldiers were killed and nine declared missing at the hands of Jihadists. Musharraf could get rid of them if he actually wants to and this does not require imposing a state of emergency in the country.

In fact, his advisers felt that he needed a period of emergency law in order to destroy the existing political situation in Pakistan which constrains him and suspends the work of judicial authorities in matters related to national security, including reelection as president by the current House of Representatives and getting rid of hard-line members of the judiciary.

But some military officers advised him that declaring a state of emergency would be seen by the Pakistani public opinion and political parties as an attempt to protect his power, and this may lead to public demonstrations calling for President Musharraf to be overthrown.

In fact, the whirlpool, in which Musharraf is struggling, is deplorable. If he did not impose a state of emergency, after all the institutions found out that he was about to announce it, the Supreme Court’s continuous challenge to demonstrate the independence of the judiciary might intend to dismantle the foundations of his rule. And if he returned and imposed a state of emergency, the jihadists might challenge him by intensifying their operations. Furthermore, public demonstrations in turn might destabilize his rule.

Perhaps after Musharraf had realized that the idea of declaring a state of emergency would not guarantee him the presidency, as he wants both its two civilian and military sides, and it may intensify and turn into a major crisis that would force him to step down, he backed out because it would not be the successful option. In fact, it can be said that any plan that does not include all opposition parties to participate in power will not save Musharraf’s rule in the short run!