05 November 2007

Don't Pay Attention, Miss A Coup

Pakistan (one of the world's largest countries which also happens to have nuclear weapons and is home to Osama bin Laden) is under martial law after a coup a couple of days ago. Take one weekend off from the news to celebrate your birthday and you miss stories like this one.

UPDATE (also from here):

[November 5]: Hundreds of opposition figures have been arrested, and Pakistan's satellite and local television and radio stations are firmly under military control, as are the newspapers. . . . Musharraf may postpone parliamentary elections, scheduled for January, for "a year." (Past military dictators in Pakistan have "postponed" the elections "for a year" many years in a row). . . . Musharraf has been invoking the need to fight Muslim extremism as a pretext for his coup. But in fact, he made the (further) coup because the Pakistani Supreme Court had unanimously decided that he was ineligible to run for president, and he hasn't cracked down on the radio station of Fazlur Rahman in the north (one of the Pakistani clerics who trained the Taliban and who denies that al-Qaeda exists). He has cracked down on civilian Supreme Court justices, on lawyers, and other distinctly secular, middle class forces in Pakistani society (along with officials of the Jama'at-i Islami, the Pakistani equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has not for the most part been violent).

In fact, the Muslim extremists are in the tribal areas, and in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the hardscrabble towns and villages of northern Punjab. If you were worried about the extremists, you'd declare martial law in the NWFP and the tribal areas. Instead, Musharraf is said to be planning to give in to the demand in these northern areas that sharia or Islamic canon law be implemented! This is a defender of secularism?

Down in Lahore and Faisalabad, no one could get more than a few hundred people even to protest Musharraf's frontal assault on the Red Mosque last summer. But Musharraf didn't make his coup in the NWFP, he arrested hundreds in Lahore and elsewhere in the deep Punjab, which is mostly traditional, conservative, Sufi, Shiite, or mildly reformist. There are extremists from the eastern and southern Pakistani Punjab, but they are a small fringe. That is why it is significant that Qazi Hussain of the Jama'at-i Islami could rally 20,000 persons near Lahore. When the Punjabis get excited about something in Pakistan, there is sometimes a political earthquake.

[November 4] Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf has made a second coup. Over his eight years of military dictatorship, he had dressed his government up in the outward trappings of 'democracy.' He allowed (stage-managed) parliamentary elections in 2002. The same year, he ran for president in a referendum with no opponent, such that he could not lose.

The Supreme Court ruled against him in his attempt to dismiss the uncooperative chief justice, and the same court had been set to rule on whether he could remain as president (he was just reelected to the post by the stage-managed parliament he had helped install).

Musharraf appears to have concluded that the Supreme Court would rule against him, thus his coup-within-a-coup, which at last throws off the tattered facade of democratic institutions and reveals the naked military tyranny underneath. Pitifully, Musharraf explained that he had to make the coup in order to ensure the transition to democracy he says he began 8 years ago. Apparently the "transition" (i.e. Musharraf's dictatorship) will last for the rest of his life.

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