Despite its immense potential, corruption, environmental pollution and religious divisions are tearing the country’s social and political fabric.
Dark clouds hover over Pakistan's political landscape. Chief of Tehrik-e Insaf, Imran Khan has threatened to lay siege to Islamabad while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faces growing pressure on many fronts including corruption charges stemming from Panama leaks and tense civilian-military relations. The former army chief, General Mirza Aslam Beg, sees parallels between this and the 1977 agitation that led to Bhutto's overthrow by the military.1
The once strongman and military dictator of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf is a worried man these days. Under house arrest since April, he faces a number of charges, the latest being treason that could send him to the gallows. While this is highly unlikely, his fall from grace and humiliation offer salutary lessons for would-be dictators.
Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced in Islamabad today that the government would press treason charges against General Pervez Musharraf. The charges relate to Musharraf's suspension of the constitution, imposition of a state of emergency and the sacking of judges that refused to provide legal cover to his illegal moves in 2007. Most people, however, are skeptical about whether Musharraf would be punished.
It is unusual for military men to be tried for their crimes. General Pervez Musharraf is unlucky in this respect when he decided to return to Pakistan last March. Who advised him to do so? While on trial for the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and possible charges of treason, his chances of being imprisoned much less hanged are considered very low.
Despite Nawaz Sharif's announcement that treason charges would be laid against the former dictator General (ret'd) Pervez Musharraf, people remain highly skeptical. Some see it as political theatre; others believe Sharif is simply trying to divert attention from the serious problems facing Pakistan that Sharif has little ability to rectify despite making tall promises prior to may 11 general elections that his party won.
There are hundreds of political parties and tens of thousands of candidates chasing a few hundred seats in the May 11 general elections in Pakistan. We examine the parties, the issues and some of the same tired old faces that have dominated Pakistani politics for decades.
A fresh development in this schizophrenic saga is the return of Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf to the political arena
“Pakistan First”, was the slogan coined by former Pakistani military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf in his very first address to the people after grabbing power in October 1999. It was to be the underlying theme by which he would govern for nearly a decade.
Add to this grim picture the lawlessness that has gripped Pakistan from Karachi to the Khyber Pass, thanks to America’s war on terror that will escalate further following the failed Time Square bomb plot in New York...
The political situation is Pakistan so precarious that few people, including the country’s president, general (retired) Pervez Musharraf, can say with certainty that the parliamentary elections scheduled for February 18 will indeed be held on time. Even if they are, there is little prospect of change unless Musharraf resigns and allows genuine civilian rule. There are widespread allegations of bogus voters’ lists, illegal use of government machinery and vehicles to support candidates allied to Musharraf, and of course of voter intimidation.
Never stable in its entire 60-year history, Pakistan has been plunged into one of its worst crises as a result of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on December 27. Soon after her death, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf and his minions made vacuous statements about “extremists” – naturally “enlightened moderates” like Musharraf could not have done it, could they? – threatening the “security and stability” of the country and vowed to redouble their efforts to deal with them even as enraged mobs went on a rampage.
A week after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the political dust has settled sufficiently for us to hazard some analysis of the situation Pakistan faces and where it might go from here. The announcement that elections have been postponed until February 18, and the appointment of Benazir’s husband and son to lead the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – confirming it to be a family fiefdom rather than a political party in any real sense – have established some of the parameters of Pakistani politics in the post-Benazir era. And yet, in perhaps the most important ways, her death really changes very little.
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has revealed a facet of Pakistani politics that is not generally known to people in the West: the extent to which Pakistani politicians act as agents of the West. Tens of thousands of Muslims are killed in political violence each year, most of of it sponsored by the West. Few are mourned as deeply as Benazir. Her assassination has been condemned by US President George Bush, the UN Security Council and a long list of other western leaders. Why should the death of one Pakistani draw so much attention in the West, when those of other – such as the girls killed in the Lal Masjid in July – are regarded with disdain?
Three weeks after General Pervez Musharraf hit Pakistan's crumbling political system on November 3 by declaring a “state of emergency”, the Supreme Court, stacked with loyalist judges, handed him the verdict he wanted. His questionable “election” as president on October 6 was declared valid on November 22: the judges simply dismissed the last of six petitions challenging its legality.
Returning to Pakistan on October 18, Benazir Bhutto discovered how radically the country has changed in the eight years she was away “languishing” in self-imposed exile. Heading a political procession—in reality a circus of rented crowds—from the airport to the mausoleum of the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Benazir’s procession was attacked by two suicide-bombers who left 140 people dead and more than 500 injured.
The Supreme Court verdict on September 28, dismissing several petitions challenging General Musharraf’s attempt to contest presidential polls while retaining his army post, has dealt a severe blow to the opposition’s hopes of preventing him from continuing his rule. There was an immediate adverse reaction on the streets; the police resorted to their customary brutality, attacking lawyers, political opponents and journalists, and a number of cameras were smashed. Protests continued as Crescent International went to press, amid signs that though the verdict might have brought some respite to Musharraf, Pakistan’s troubles are far from over.
The reasons for the current political turmoil in Pakistan are not difficult to see. We have a government, led by Pervez Musharraf, that has been utterly discredited by its subservience to the United States of America, which is regarded as a sworn enemy by the majority of Pakistan’s people, and by its willingness to wage war on its own people at the US’s behest. And we have opposition politicians angling to replace Musharraf who have no more credibility because of their own records in power in the past, and the fact that they too are perfectly willing – even eager – to kowtow to the US in order to secure their own position.
What is the key constituency whose support all rulers of Pakistan desperately seek and need? Considering that Pakistan is looking forward to a supposed return to democracy, one might be forgiven for thinking that the answer to this question lay somewhere among Paksitan’s long-suffering people. Alternatively, bearing in mind the role that the military has played in politics for much of Pakistan’s 60-year history, thoughts might turn to the army and the officer corps.
The Loya Jirga, or grand assembly of tribal elders, is the traditional Afghan way of discussing and resolving differences, but there was something very odd about the one held in Kabul from August 9-12. True, large amounts of food that (including rice, lamb kebabs and other Afghan delicacies) were served with typical Afghan hospitality, but the jirga was not entirely an Afghan affair. This was partly because it brought together tribal elders from both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, which is something of a novelty with potentially grave consequences for the future of Pakistan if it is not handled carefully.