Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A former US Diplomat Attacks Musharraf

A former US a former U.S. diplomat and staff reporter at TIME vents his spleen at Pakistan’s "president general" on San Francisco Chronicle’s web page.

Pro-democracy rumblings in Pakistan: Should Musharraf - and Bush - be worried?

Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani army general who stole his country's government in a 1999 coup, and has ruled dictatorially since then as its "president general," has been no friend of democracy.

Still, that hasn't stopped "democracy"-exporting Team Bush from showering Musharraf's regime with billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars for its unspecified role in the so-called war on terror. (To date, no one in Washington has indicated just what Americans may have gotten for their investment.)

Suspended Pakistani High Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry greeted lawyers who support him as he set off from Islamabad for Lahore this past weekend

Now, Musharraf is wrestling with the kind of annoying problem that tends to emerge whenever abusers of democratic institutions and the rule of law act on their drunk-with-power whims. Several weeks ago, the "president general" fired Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the chief justice of Pakistan's High Court. His reason for the sacking: As the BBC reports, "It has been alleged that...Chaudhry illegally used his position in an attempt to procure a top police job for his son." Still, Chaudhry, "who became chief justice in 2005, has earned a reputation for challenging human-rights abuses and government wrongdoing," and is considered a popular public official.

In fact, this past weekend, when Chaudhry traveled by motorcade from Islamabad to Lahore, it took him more than 24 hours to make the 186-mile journey. That's because the judge, who had "decided to travel by road[,] ignoring the government's warning of possible suicide attacks against him," was routinely "slowed down by supporters who threw rose petals, beat drums and set off fire crackers" to honor hizzoner. Tens of thousands of supporters had waited overnight at different points along Chaudhry's route leading into Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, in order to greet him.

Arriving at the High Court in Lahore, the ousted chief justice was "greeted by a crowd [of] thousands of lawyers and political activists, as well as High Court judges and 18 retired senior judges.... It was a massive show of support even though police arrested political workers, blocked roads and in some cases fired tear gas." (BBC)

The fact that the welcome rally for Chaudhry took place in Lahore is significant, not only because the city is the center of Pakistan's legal system, but also because it is the home base for the Pakistan Muslim League, Musharraf's political party. As listeners chanted, "Go, Musharraf, go!", Chaudhry told the crowd that had waited to greet him that the "era of dictatorship is over." He said: "Autocratic system[s] of government and grabbing of power by a single person [are] now ended....Nations that do not learn from history and repeat the[se] mistakes, they have to face [the] consequences....It is the responsibility of the courts to defend [the] human rights of the people and protect the constitution." PTI also reported that, 16 [currently] serving High Court justices attended the Chaudhury welcome rally, "despite fears of [a] government backlash," a fact that could be "[s]een as a sign of his growing public stature."

An editorial in Pakistan's Daily Times observes that Chaudhury had "refused to go quietly when he was fired arbitrarily by a man in uniform" and that, as a result, "the public sees him as salvaging the honor of the country's judiciary after years of submission by his predecessor judges." The paper adds: "[T]he moment [Chaudhury] decided to take a stand, he won the sympathy and support of Pakistanis across the nation, if only to show that Pakistan could not be ruled whimsically and arbitrarily for so long without the people indicating they wanted a change of...government."

Giving a hint of what the future might have in store, the Daily Times also notes that, more than other cities in Pakistan, Lahore is regarded as "the city of political decisions" and "a good barometer of where the government stands at [any] given point." As such, "[t]here can be agitations all over Pakistan, but if Lahore remains unmoved, the ruler can go on ruling despite his foibles. But when Lahore wakes up, then it is time to listen to what it is saying."

Is Musharraf listening? What about his financial backers in Washington?

The Author:
Edward M. Gomez, a former U.S. diplomat and staff reporter at TIME, has lived and worked in the U.S. and overseas, and speaks several languages. He has written for The New York Times, the Japan Times and the International Herald Tribune.


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