US, Musharraf and the miscarriage of justice

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After roughly seven and half years in office with his domestic popularity at an all-time low, his party the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) dysfunctional, his cabinet deprived of its ministerial authority–all indications are that Musharraf is here to stay.

During Musharraf’s rule the national institutions of the country have suffered immensely and their independence has been eroded. The parliament is in disarray, the media is muzzled, the police force is broken, and the judiciary’s independence is barely noticeable. The Chief Justice’s confinement in the absence of a verdict from the Supreme Judicial Council speaks volumes about what Musharraf has accomplished under US patronage.

The opposition once charged with the mantle of holding the government to account is too divided and unable to produce an effective challenge to Musharraf’s rule. The only real danger to Musharraf comes from the Islamists, but secret alliances with prominent ulema in return for money and the establishment of religious seminaries has helped Musharraf contain the threat–only just though.

The only institution that has benefited from the billions of dollars of American aid and has undergone robust reformation is the Pakistani military. Musharraf has embarked on an ambitious programme to secularise the army, isolate and purge Islamists, buy the loyalty of officers with plots of land, accelerate the promotion of pro-US officers, inculcate a close-knit of commanders who owe their allegiance to him. Those that have resisted have not stayed long enough to incite opposition against their commander in chief–they are unceremoniously rotated to occupy benign posts and eventually succumb to retirement. This has not only permitted Musharraf to maintain a unified command structure within the armed forces, but more importantly enabled him to control civil life in Pakistan. The armed forces routinely intervene in Pakistan’s civil life under the pretext of ‘democracy’ or ‘doctrine of necessity’ to keep Musharraf in power and America’s policies alive in Pakistan.

The current outcry over the removal of the Chief Justice Iftikhar is a continuation of an ongoing struggle between two colonial institutions– the pro-American military brass versus the pro-British judiciary. Whenever the judiciary has resisted the army or called into question the decisions of the military junta, the Chief Justice has been removed from office. General Zia ul Haq sacked five Supreme Court judges and the Chief Justice Muhammad Yaqoob Ali. General Musharraf has gone one step better and has the honour of removing two Chief Justices during his reign.

The timing of Chief Justice Iftikhar removal is significant. It comes nine days after US Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit and coincides with NATO’s spring offensive in the tribal belt. For sometime now, America has been planning to transform the face of military rule in Pakistan to a civil one, and has supported Musharraf’s endeavours to convene a Presidential election later this year and a parliamentarian election early in 2008. However, the crux of this plan rests on bolstering the flagging popularity of PML-Q, which is crucial to Musharraf’s re-election as President, and to constitutionally separate the powers of the President and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS)–both positions are held by Musharraf.

As part of this plan, America wants Musharraf to lessen his dependence on Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) and forge closer ties with the secular Pakistan’s Peoples Party (PPP) and PML-Q. But given NATO’s military incursions in the tribal belt, MMA’s closeness to the Taliban and Musharraf’s failure to form an alliance between PPP and PML-Q, America now wants delay the elections. On March 6 2007, speaking about Pakistan’s security situation, President Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) Shujaat Hussain said, “The Constitution provides for postponement of election if the security situation in the region takes a nasty downward slide with its obvious impact on Pakistan.”

In the event that the elections are postponed Musharraf’s government is scheming to extend the tenure of the existing assemblies and use the present Electoral College to get Musharraf re-elected as President of Pakistan. This was iterated by Shujaat Hussain who said that in case of emergency, the tenure of assemblies could be extended to another year, according to the Constitution.

As expected the opposition will invoke the Supreme Court to annul the election. Furthermore, the separation of powers between the President and the COAS mandates careful revision of the constitution. In both cases, Musharraf wants a compliant Chief Justice to uphold his actions. However, Chief Justice Iftikhar has demonstrated in the Steel Mill case and the missing person’s saga that he is a formidable opponent. This explains why Chief Justice Iftikhar has been removed now. After all, Chief Justice Iftikhar has gone on record to state that the law will run its course should the government impose emergency in the country.

Clearly, the first five decades of Pakistan’s existence illustrates that whether the government is civil or military, the US has never been interested in promoting democracy. America’s sole interest has been to strengthen the army and use it as an instrument to preserve her interests in the Pakistan and beyond. During Musharraf’s rule, America has fortified the institution of the Pakistan army to such an extent that even if Musharraf was to become incapacitated in any way, another General–General Hyat– lying in wait would quickly take over. This was echoed by Robert Richer, who was associate director of operations in 2004 and 2005 for the Central Intelligence Agency said, “If something happened to Musharraf tomorrow, another general would step in.”

The opposition and the people of Pakistan must understand that the main issue is not the sanctity of the constitution. The constitution is merely a colonial vestige intended to prevent Pakistan’s liberation from American-imperialism. The real issue is to pressurise the army to liberate itself and Pakistan from American hegemony and then to re-establish the caliphate, which will defend the separation of powers between the military, the executive and the judiciary.

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