For Whom the Bell Tolls

Islamabad: Unless General Parvez Musharraf’s orders of November 4 are rolled back it is hard to predict anything but major political turmoil in Pakistan. By striking at the judiciary, to preempt what some of general Musharraf’s close aides believed would be an adverse decision on his eligibility case, the regime has begun an irreversible process of unraveling the system it put together. Its public credibility has received an irretrievable blow. It maybe proves to be fatal for the regime. Pakistan of 2007 is unlikely to accept unilateralism and sheer high-handedness by those in power.

The endless rounding up across the country of the politicians, lawyers, activists and media persons who either dared to publicly protest against imposition of a technical martial law in the country, clearly shows how the Musharraf regime intends to respond to resistance. Essentially, it will with heavy-handed State power. The Musharraf regime cannot politically afford public protests. Hence it is depending on its ability to crush all protests to be able to successfully pull off its attack on democracy and the Constitution. Public protests will be the only form of challenge that this regime would fear.

Meanwhile, Musharraf is concerned about his overseas supporters. To them he offered the Abraham Lincoln wisdom to convince them of the wisdom of his action. He pleaded to them that in times of destabilization within Pakistan they should give him more time, patience and understanding. He tried to invoke contextual variation as the cause for why Pakistan’s progress on democracy was so slow. Bush obviously doesn’t really care for democracy. Washington’s concerns do not flow from its commitment to democracy, instead from its commitment to its national interests. For now from Pakistan they seek a stable government, which can push ahead on war on terrorism. If there are widespread protests against the present regime and the emergence of a coherent political opposition, a ‘destabilized’ Pakistan under Musharraf will make Washington review its ‘support Musharraf ‘policy.

The overwhelming majority in the legislature and the cabinet, which the PCO so eloquently stated would survive this technical martial law, are parts of the Musharraf regime. With the docile figures in the parliament and the cabinet and the judiciary ‘defanged’ only public protests will signal within and outside of the country that there is opposition to Musharraf’s moves –” other than the statements of the public, the analysts and the politicians. If left unchallenged, Musharraf will spearhead State a reign of oppression on the people of Pakistan. No matter what his justification such oppression will point in only one direction- the unraveling of this regime.

The irony is that Musharraf, who people saw as one who was genuinely concerned about Pakistan’s well being and had the will to ‘turn the country around,’ lost most of his goodwill on two issues. One – his political moves and two his moves to fight what he called ‘extremism and terrorism.’ Musharraf’s blundering non-credible and undemocratic political moves alienated the political class and his faulting framing and non-consistent policy in the tribal areas and beyond alienated the people.

Today, few would disagree with what he stated to be Pakistan’s key problem i.e. internal destabilization. However people will not agree with the solution of imposing a technical martial law in the country. The steps he has taken are essentially to gag the press and ‘disable’ the independent judiciary. Clearly these moves will indicate that the Musharraf regime has erroneously viewed these two groups as having caused increase in terrorism and political violence. Some questionable judgments on the Lal masjid by the judiciary notwithstanding, the fact is that for a country completely bereft of a credible institutions, the judiciary had begun to provide some ray of hope for the people. In the post March period it emerged as the institution that was effectively seeking to hold State and government power accountable.

Having ‘defeated’ the independent judiciary after the imposition of the technical martial law, either through dismissal or through forcing the exit of judges who refused to take a fresh oath under the PCO, the regime must believe particularly ‘powerful.’ It is a regime now steeped in self-righteousness and ironically in the ‘wisdom’ of what will likely prove to be self-destructive moves.

By imposing what is technically martial law, general Parvez Musharraf has pushed Pakistan towards greater destabilization. Himself he has committed political suicide. This move will leave him virtually friendless among Pakistan’s mainstream political parties forcing him essentially back to the bunker with support only from the party that he created the PML-Q and the MQM, a party he helped become ‘kosher’ in the Establishment circles.

Over time, tenacious resistance will spell general Musharraf’s political end. What is most worrying however is that he will have left the country more bitterly divided and fragmented than when he first imposed martial law in October 1999. The November 4 imposition of martial law by general Musharraf unambiguously establishes the fact that general Musharraf is now part of Pakistan’s problems. There is no longer any doubt about his ineligibility for leading a desperately needed smooth political transition. Where Musharraf stands today he seems to have blown up all the bridges that would lead him to Pakistan’s many and varied stake-holders. He may soon discover he is a lonely political figure on Pakistan’s increasingly turbulent political scene.

The step that general Musharraf has taken will also put the Pakistan army under increased political pressure. While his regime has been effectively manipulating Pakistan’s hitherto weak political forces, he has failed to genuinely partner with civilian forces and other State institutions, an effort to end the crisis of internal security and of political legitimacy in the country.

Also for an army facing unprecedented attacks, kidnappings and shahadats and therefore a serious handicap of low morale, it needed to earn public goodwill. Instead the technical-martial law imposed by its Chief will earn it public resentment. Cumulative public resentment will likely bring the Musharraf -army relation under pressure.

The prognosis cannot be good for the present system. Soon the members of the Musharraf regime maybe constrained to ask ‘for whom the bells toll. Because surely they do not ‘toll’ for those who the PCO hopes to strike down and the technical martial law intends to intimidate and defeat.