DAWN - Editorial; November 07, 2007

November 07, 2007


Friendly advice

SUPPORT for Gen Musharraf in western capitals, especially Washington, and which many Pakistanis begrudged him, is fast withering. The change of heart has come about with the imposition of emergency rule. The concern shown by western leaders is understandably based on their fear of a new wave of anti-West sentiment sweeping Pakistan. This will not help fight Islamist militants who have vowed jihad on the West and nothing less on Pakistan. Though reaction from Washington came belatedly to the second coup staged by the general in eight years, this time against himself, it was specific in what the US wants him to do now. President Bush wants emergency and media curbs lifted, elections held and the general to doff his uniform as pledged or face a review in US policy. The latter includes cuts in military and economic assistance. Any reference to restoring the independence of the judiciary was conveniently omitted, ostensibly because the accusation that it was a hurdle in fighting terrorism has been bought by the West. The foreign office dismissed similar demands made by the EU, individual European countries, the Commonwealth and the UN.

What’s bothering the western governments about the emergency rule is largely the same as has had civil society at home up in protest. The crackdown on rights activists, suspension of civil liberties and an independent judiciary and attempts at gagging the media are the salient features of the autocratic rule under the Provisional Constitution Order. It is naïve to think that by restraining the media from reporting violence, which the government itself has caused to erupt among law-abiding citizens, the resistance put up by civil society can be quashed as lawyers, rights activists and journalists bear the brunt of it. The government has practically diverted state resources from fighting off the militants holding the people hostage in parts of the Frontier province to targeting a new foe that need not have been there if it had not thrown the Basic Law into abeyance. Under the PCO, exercise of executive power by all government functionaries and those acting at their behest is now virtually above the law.

The sea change has occurred as a result of bad counsel by political mavericks such as the Chaudhries in Punjab and their political clones elsewhere, who fear a rout in the event of free and fair elections. They have got Gen Musharraf in a bind, making him open several new fronts and limiting his options. It has brought a bad name to Pakistan and given the militants a free hand as state power is used to put down political dissent. All may not be lost just yet if Gen Musharraf heeds the counsel of his foreign friends: lift emergency rule, stop the crackdown on civil society, withdraw media curbs, install an impartial caretaker government and hold free and fair elections. If he listens to civil society back home, which is his partner in putting ‘Pakistan first’, he should also restore the independence of the judiciary.

Stock market fall

THE Karachi Stock Exchange index of 100 shares (KSE-100) plummeted by 635 points or five per cent — the biggest ever one-day fall — on what will now be remembered as ‘black Monday’ in the history of the country’s capital markets. No one expected the KSE to react so violently to the proclamation of emergency and the issuance of the Provisional Constitution Order by the chief of the army staff last weekend. The reason for this optimism was simple: the market had been discounting the emergency for the last fortnight and already adjusted itself by shedding 800 points in that period. The bullish sentiment that had propelled the KSE-100 index to the all-time highest level of 14,903 points on October 22 was already on the wane on speculation of the impending imposition of emergency. The market braced itself for some further erosion in the value of the stocks at the beginning of the week because along with the proclamation of emergency on Saturday came the PCO. For the market players, it was ‘emergency plus’. Therefore, a little bit of further adjustment to the new reality was inevitable. But nobody was prepared for such a massive fall on a single day, which eroded market capitalisation by Rs186bn.

What happened on black Monday did not result from the manipulation of the big stock brokers or any inadequacy of regulations. It was a consequence of the government’s own doing. With the shutdown of the television news channels investors had no means to verify or refute the fast travelling rumours of a ‘counter’ coup. That led to panic selling by big and small investors. Along with local jobbers and speculators, foreign portfolio funds are also believed to have taken out $25m from the market during the day. The trend is expected to persist over the next few days, if not weeks, unless state-owned and private institutional investors are forced by the government to intervene. The punters link the forward thrust of the capital markets in the near future closely to two factors on which hinge the fate of Gen Musharraf. One is the intensity of Washington’s reaction to the emergency; the other is the PPP’s decision on supporting the pro-democracy movement of the lawyers. Both have been vague in their denunciation of the army chief’s act so far. And the market too has fluctuated accordingly, at one point going up and at another plummeting.

Who to believe?

THE attorney-general’s remarks appear too good to be true. Speaking to a foreign wire agency, Malik Abdul Qayyum said things that would relieve our frayed nerves. The AG told the foreign agency on Monday that the assemblies would be dissolved within 10 days and that the general election would be held in mid-January. The AG’s remarks came a day after Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told a press conference in Islamabad that the election could be delayed by a year. More ominously, he gave no deadline and said emergency would last ‘as long as it was utmost necessary’. Subsequently the prime minister was quoted as saying that elections would be held on schedule. Also on record is the Punjab chief minister who made it clear on Monday that the polls would not be postponed and such rumours were being spread by ‘subversive elements’. Who do we believe? Prior to the proclamation of the state of emergency on Nov 3, there was no dearth of statements from the high-ups that the government had no plans to impose emergency. AG Qayyum himself had reassured the Supreme Court on this count. Yet on Saturday, the emergency became a fact.

What importance should we attach to the AG’s statement? Will the assemblies really be dissolved before Nov 15 as he declared and the people go to the polls in January? Or will someone quickly contradict the AG again to keep the nation in limbo? The truth is that a lot depends upon the dual office case pending with the Supreme Court. Any move towards dissolution of the assemblies and the holding of the general election is tied to the verdict by the newly organised Supreme Court. Besides, we do not know whether, even after the apex court rules in favour of the government, ‘national interests’ may force the regime to postpone the election. Let us, therefore, keep our fingers crossed.

OTHER VOICES - American Press

The Pakistan mess

BY imposing martial law, Gen Pervez Musharraf has pushed nuclear-armed Pakistan further along a perilous course and underscored the failure of President Bush’s policy towards a key ally in the war on terrorism. The events should not have come as a surprise to administration officials. This is what you get when policy is centred slavishly on a single, autocratic ruler rather than more broadly on his country.

The general justified his crackdown as a defence against Islamic militants, but his desperate…actions — suspending the Constitution, rounding up judges, beating and jailing lawyers and journalists — will embolden extremists. They will also fuel anger and mistrust among Pakistani moderates.

After winning a…ballot last month, General Musharraf was awaiting a Supreme Court decision on whether his election, while still serving as army chief of staff, was legal. Jane Perlez and David Rohde reported in The Times that the dictator asserted military powers after getting word that the court would rule against him. A phone call at 2 am Pakistan time from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dissuaded the general from taking similar action during last summer’s mass political protests, but this time nothing could induce him to back down.

Returning Pakistan to civilian government has been a declared goal of the United States since General Musharraf seized power in 1999. He has repeatedly broken promises to move in that direction …by forcing rivals into exile and intimidating anyone who tried to stand up to him.

Most of the time, Mr Bush, who says he cannot win the anti-terrorism war without General Musharraf but clearly can’t win it with him either, acquiesced…

The Faustian nature of the bargain is more apparent than ever. Not only has the general proven less committed to the anti-terrorism fight than expected (Al Qaeda and the Taliban are resurgent on the border with Afghanistan)…now he has abandoned any pretence of moving towards democracy. Mr Bush seems to have gained little leverage from the more than $10bn in American aid.

It was encouraging to see Pakistani lawyers openly challenge the legitimacy of Mr Musharraf’s emergency degree on Monday.

The United States is increasingly left with bad options. Cutting off aid would only make it harder to enlist Pakistan’s military in the anti-extremist fight and renew doubts about America’s reliability as an ally.

Ultimately, democracy, not dictatorship, is the best hope for a stable Pakistan. Reviving General Musharraf’s backroom deal with the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, however distasteful, may be a way back from the abyss.— (Nov 6)

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007