November 24th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: 2007 Federal Election contest enters final round

CANBERRA OBSERVED: John Howard's last-ditch pitch to voters

WATER: Governments raid irrigation water

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Musharraf takes Pakistan to the brink of chaos

ASIA: Can Taiwan resist falling into China's orbit?

PACIFIC: Power struggle behind alleged Fiji coup

STRAWS IN THE WIND: John Howard's last hurrah? / Putin's new Russian empire / Junk-food on children's television / Corruption in Victoria / Banking on Kevin Rudd

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: The unacknowledged elephant in the room

OPINION: Pro-life outcry for dolphins, but not for humans

OPINION: Economics isn't everything

SCHOOLS: The case for external, competitive exams

CULTURE AND CIVILISATION: The massive assault on Judeo-Christian values

Why education has been captured by the Left (letter)

Culprit of centralisation? (letter)

BOOKS: COMRADES: A History Of World Communism, by Robert Service

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Musharraf takes Pakistan to the brink of chaos

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, November 24, 2007
If Pakistan suffers a breakdown of law and order, Islamist extremists could try to seize power and end up possessing nuclear weapons. Peter Westmore reports.

General Pervez Musharraf, the army chief who has appointed himself President of Pakistan, is pushing his country to the brink of chaos, by detaining hundreds of lawyers, sacking justices of the Supreme Court and filling their positions with his own nominees, then imposing a state of emergency to prevent both political protests and electioneering before scheduled elections next January.

Pakistan is already a deeply divided society, with a growing Islamist political and military force challenging the traditional, more secular, political parties of Pakistan, which have been periodically overthrown by the military.

Musharraf's tactics have discredited the army, and united all other forces in society against him.

The sacking of justices of the Supreme Court follows months of legal stand-off between the President and the judiciary, and repeats Pakistan's long history of military takeovers.

Terrorist attacks

In his declaration on November 3, General Musharraf declared that the upsurge of terrorist attacks, judicial activism and a breakdown of government functions required the declaration of a state of emergency.

Over 40 suicide-bombings have occurred across the country this year, and over 600 people have been killed.

The most recent bombing was launched against supporters of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, after Miss Bhutto returned from exile in October.

Suicide-bombings led to the deaths of scores of people on the streets of Karachi, with hundreds more injured.

The simultaneous explosions bear the hallmarks of al Qaeda, which has a well-established network in Pakistan's largest city, extending out into the wild north-west province.

General Musharraf also accused some members of the judiciary of working at cross-purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism, "thereby weakening the government and the nation's resolve to control this menace".

Since Pakistan became independent about 60 years ago, it has been ruled for most of the time by military leaders who overthrew the elected political leaders on about 10 different occasions.

The legal system was deeply undermined not long after independence, when, in 1954, the then Supreme Court justified the Governor-General's dismissal of the government and the parliament by invoking the controversial "theory of necessity".

Since then, nearly every dismissal of a civilian government and every military takeover have been upheld by the Supreme Court, undermining both the independence of the judiciary and the country's democratic constitution.

Additionally, the military leaders have co-opted both pliant politicians and religious extremists against civilian governments. They have provided a civilian façade to military governments.

At other times, religious and ethnic extremists have destabilised governments run by secular political forces.

General Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule follows a similar pattern to events in 1999, when he overthrew the government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was forced into exile.

At the time, Musharraf suspended the constitution and ordered a crackdown on the judiciary and political opposition.

But this time, the reception has been nothing like what the general might have expected. Not only have his most important supporters in the White House pulled back, but a growing street movement threatens to spiral out of control, which, analysts say, is making everyone in the country, especially the Pakistani Army, very nervous.

What has happened is that a broadly-based opposition - led by the legal profession, but including all political parties, from Benazir Bhutto's secular populist front to conservative Islamists - is beginning to take to the streets.

And this disparate group is making tangible and common demands for the reinstatement of removed Supreme Court judges, the lifting of emergency rule and immediate elections.

In the meantime, General Musharraf has moved in the opposite direction, by handing power to military courts to try civilians on charges ranging from fomenting public unrest to treason.

While the political opposition was talking about boycotting elections held under the state of emergency, past experience shows that parties which failed to contest elections have lost out.

Benazir Bhutto reacted moderately to the state of emergency, indicating that she intended to continue a national march from her home in Lahore to the capital Islamabad. However, General Musharraf has countered this by placing Miss Bhutto under house arrest, along with other political leaders.

At the moment, there is a stand-off between the military and civilian leaders in Pakistan. If there is a breakdown of law and order, one danger is that Islamist extremists could try to seize power.

As Pakistan is now a nuclear power, this would have disastrous consequences for the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East, and ultimately, the world.

- Peter Westmore

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