Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Foreign Take on Events

While many of us vent our steam at recent events in Pakistan, it is perhaps pertinent to note what neutral observers are also saying.

Here is a view from today’s Christian Science Monitor
...Earlier this month, Musharraf suspended the country's Supreme Court chief justice. Ever since, Pakistan's middle classes – ironically one of the chief beneficiaries of the military leader's eight-year rule – have taken to the streets. Also fueling the uproar are suspicions that Musharraf is paving the way to another term as both president and chief military leader.

The protests are prompting concern, both in Pakistan and the US, that pent-up political frustrations and social stagnation threaten the stability of a key American ally at least as much as Islamic extremism in the country's less-advanced regions.

"For too long, we've heard that the only alternative to Musharraf is something worse. But the fact is we don't need him if he doesn't move towards a civilianized government with broadened representation of Pakistan's people," says Selig Harrison, director of the Asia program of the Center for International Policy in Washington. The lack of political reform and civilian rule has exacerbated divisions, he says, "and the more polarized Pakistan is, the more unstable it's going to be."

While no one expects the social unrest to cause Musharraf's imminent demise, many observers do see the coming months as crucial to Pakistan's direction

"This is not just a flare-up. It is reflective of a broader discontent about the failure of the Musharraf regime to take concrete steps to restore civilian rule," says Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of State for south Asian affairs. "With elections on the horizon, this could be an important turning point."

Musharraf cited "abuse of power" when he suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry on March 9, and many Pakistanis agreed – with the charge at least, though they attached it to the president himself. Mr. Chaudhry had taken the government to task over hundreds of disappearances of Pakistanis, some suspected Islamic extremists but others human rights activists and representatives of ethnic minority populations.

Perhaps more telling for many Pakistanis, Chaudhry had also expressed his view that it was not legal under the Constitution for Musharraf to seek another presidential term while remaining the Army chief. In addition, he had said publicly that he anticipated a number of ways in which the issue could come before him.

Such open threats to the continued reign of Pakistan's military became intolerable, says Mr. Harrison. "The military establishment is deeply involved in a wide range of business in the country, and they have a big stake in staying in power," he says...

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