Thursday, June 14, 2007

San Francisco Chronicle says ‘Dilute Musharraf’s Autocratic Control’

First it was the East Coast press, and now the US West Coast press joins in.

Here is today’s leader from the San Francisco Chronicle:
_____________________________________


Editorial: A Pakistan test

Thursday, June 14, 2007

HOW INDISPENSABLE is Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf? For years he has sold Washington on the threat that without him Pakistan would descend into an Iran-style Islamic theocracy, exporting trouble and waving nuclear weaponry.

But it may be time to call his bluff. Never a friend of civil law, he has overstepped himself by firing the country's chief justice and briefly yanking press freedom for broadcast media. He's also planning for a fall vote by a lame-duck parliament on another five-year term as president while keeping his uniform as head of the military. In plain terms, his public image has taken a huge beating.

The Bush administration, of course, won't publicly disparage an ally who has collected some $10 billion in U.S. aid. Pakistan lies next door to Afghanistan, and Musharraf maintains he has done all he can to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists, who are dug in along the two-country border. Pakistan has never been a steady democracy, and Musharraf is a known quantity, hard-nosed strategists argue.

His appeal, however, is growing stale. And the proof is largely of his creation. By firing the nation's top judge, he inflamed protests that brought thousands of lawyers, business groups and political organizations into the streets. The press crackdown had the same effect: pro-democracy groups were galvanized, not the Islamic fundamentalists he has cited as trouble. At one rally last month, violence erupted between pro- and anti-Musharraf groups, leaving 48 dead.

His rule may bend, or break, soon. He's negotiating with former leader Benazir Bhutto to allow her return from exile and to possibly share power as prime minister. That could be an improvement, though it would leave Pakistan's all-powerful military in the picture, with Musharraf as its top general.

An opportunity is at hand to dilute his autocratic control. Washington should shoulder him hard in the direction of democracy and civil law. Such a change won't happen overnight, but Musharraf's weakened position is a chance that can't be missed.





22 comments:

jusAthot said...

Reading all these American media report – one is convinced that in our Land of the Pure, anyone aspiring to take up the reigns of power has to have two things on his/her side: Army and Uncle Sam. But of course, when Uncle Sam speaks, the Generals listen. Where do the rest of the Pakistanis fits in this equation? We have sold our country for a pittance of funds that largely benefits the generals and their cronies by serving “imperialist interests”. If this is not a Banana Republic what is it?

It is high time for change of not just regime but of the status quo. I know easier said than done.

AAS said...

Unfortuantely there exists no one strong enough to stand up to the West and even if they did he would be crushed....you just have to look at our history to know that.

Anonymous said...

More condemnation, this time from a Republican and democratic congressmen (woman)

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-US-Pakistan.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

"Tom Malinowski, a former State Department official, characterized the government of Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, as ''the most egregious and harmful example of a human rights double-standard in American foreign policy today.''
"

AAS said...

To all:

Most of the times when i read and participate on this blog...i don't really feel like i am doing anything special...so when i came across this article in The Saturday Post i could not help but get involved.

It is about this kid who is in the US looking for medical treatment. I am going to donate at least 20 american dollars..wish i could do more but being broke sucks. :) I hope that if you guys can spare even a ruppee it will be worth it. I really hope u guys do.

Even though i havent really revealed much about me...maybe some of you might have guessed that i live in the US. :)

So i did check this out its not a phony story. Part of the extended family lives only two hours away so please check out the links...and help if you can. I will be indebted to all who do contribute.

http://thesaturdaypost.com/spotlight_79_aariz.html


http://www.helpaariz.com/552/index.html

Anonymous said...

aas: although we disagree on political thins we seem to agree on helping others. I have just read the site and we will help as a family and I have also emailed many others in Pakistan and internationally to give and to spread the word. Thank you for making us aware....MAHI

Anonymous said...

From Geo: It appears that the US is going to help Pakistan in a very important way.... MAHI
---------------------------
US helping Pakistan to meet energy requirements: Richard Boucher


ISLAMABAD: US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard Boucher said that the US is helping Pakistan to meet its energy requirements through other resources instead of depending on any country like Iran.

In an exclusive interview with Afshan Shakeel of Geo News, Boucher said US government wants from Pakistan to hold the fair and transparent general elections. The US is ready to provide monetary and technical assistance and expertise to Pakistan in this connection.

He said that the purpose of his tour is not to provide help in any political deal and he is touch with all political parties, government representatives and officials of election commission.

President Musharraf and Election Commission of Pakistan gave assurances for holding transparent and fair elections, Boucher said.

Regarding statements issued from US state department about upcoming elections and President Musharraf’s uniform, Boucher said that these statements were issued after the assurance made by President Musharraf.

Replying to a question regarding Pakistan- Iran –India gas pipeline, Boucher said that US have reservations about the project.

The detailed interview of Richard Boucher would be telecast at 3:00 pm and 9:00 pm on Geo News.
Courtesy Geo

libertarian said...

Mahi: It appears that the US is going to help Pakistan in a very important way...

Nothing comes for free. The US of A will then have one more lever - like they don't have enough already. Energy security = national security.

jusAthot said...

Libertarian: Well said – there is no such thing as a free lunch.

AAS: For too long, we have made to believe that we cannot stand up for our sovereignty. For too long, our Elites (‘The Establishment’) has played this fearful-sounding drum beating of Uncle Sam bombing Pakistan into a ‘Parking Lot’. For far too long, consciously or unconsciously, we have been living in a Fools’ Paradise.

For most of our Sixty Years, our leaders/elites were bandits who thought only of their vested interests. Unlike, those in Cuba, Vietnam and many others who had resisted Uncle Sam’s blackmail and threats.

It’s time to change the tune, my friend, for the sake of the future generations of Pakistanis. Those who do not learn from the past (history) are doomed to repeat it. Allah helps those who help themselves ....
PS: ... And also those who do benevolent work. Thanks for sharing the info.

Anonymous said...

Communism???!!
A totally discredited system...Cuba, Vietnam? Oh please be serious. We do not have to sell our souls to the Americans but perhaps we should emulate India rather????
Just look at China today - yes they are economically powerful but they have no other freedoms whatsoever.....Communism is no different to Islamism - both dictatorships of the elite under the guise of their particular ideology.

jusAthot said...

Anonymous 2: Hold your horses!

This was a reply to an assertion made: WE ARE NOT CAPABLE TO STAND UP TO THE WEST AND EVEN IF WE DID WE WOULD BE CRUSHED…. YOU JUST HAVE TO LOOK AT OUR HISTORY TO KNOW THAT.

We are not talking about any “ISM”, rather about the VALOR and GUTS of those nations who in spite of the threats and bullying from the Super Power, stand up to the global bullyboy. There is not a single country in Asia who can stand up to this. India was once a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, but alas, the elite Indians have bowed down in front of the “Washington Consensus”. A few leaders like Malaysian ex-PM Mahathir had raised their voices against the Super Power bullying, but that was too little to help.

Those who insinuate that Communism and Islam are synonymous are either ignorant or simply have a hatred of Islam.

libertarian said...

justathot: India was once a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, but alas, the elite Indians have bowed down in front of the “Washington Consensus”.

Must be depressing knowing you have the wind of Zimbabwe and Yugoslavia beneath your wings. The Non-aligned Movement was a disaster - euthanasia was in order.

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece by Ahmed Rashid in today's Washington Post.

America's Bad Deal With Musharraf, Going Down in Flames

By Ahmed Rashid
Sunday, June 17, 2007; B01

LAHORE, Pakistan Pakistan is on the brink of disaster, and the Bush administration is continuing to back the man who dragged it there. As President Pervez Musharraf fights off the most serious challenge to his eight-year dictatorship, the United States is supporting him to the hilt. The message to the Pakistani public is clear: To the Bush White House, the war on terrorism tops everything, and that includes democracy.

The crisis began on March 9, when Musharraf suspended Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the chief justice of the supreme court, who bravely threatened Musharraf's plans to consolidate his power. That triggered street protests demanding Musharraf's resignation, which were met by a government-led crackdown on lawyers, the opposition and the media. Thousands of lawyers nationwide, looking like penguins in their courtroom black suits and white shirts, braved police batons and the heat to lead marches. They were joined by women's groups, journalists and the opposition. For the first time in two decades, Pakistan's civil society has taken to the streets.

The roots of the crisis go back to the blind bargain Washington made after 9/11 with the regime that had heretofore been the Taliban's main patron: ignoring Musharraf's despotism in return for his promises to crack down on al-Qaeda and cut the Taliban loose. Today, despite $10 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan since 2001, that bargain is in tatters; the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda's senior leadership has set up another haven inside Pakistan's chaotic border regions.

The problem is exacerbated by a dramatic drop-off in U.S. expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in U.S. history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State's policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney's office. Anne W. Patterson, the new U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, is an expert on Latin American "drugs and thugs"; Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, is a former department spokesman who served three tours in Hong Kong and China but never was posted in South Asia. "They know nothing of Pakistan," a former senior U.S. diplomat said.

Current and past U.S. officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney's office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any U.S. criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I'm told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney's aides, rather than taken to the State Department.

No one in Foggy Bottom seems willing to question Cheney's decisions. Boucher, for one, has largely limited his remarks on the crisis to expressions of support for Musharraf. Current and retired U.S. diplomats tell me that throughout the previous year, Boucher refused to let the State Department even consider alternative policies if Musharraf were threatened with being ousted, even though 2007 is an election year in Pakistan. Last winter, Boucher reportedly limited the scope of a U.S. government seminar on Pakistan for fear that it might send a signal that U.S. support for Musharraf was declining. Likewise, I'm told, he has refused to meet with leading opposition figures such as former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf has exiled. (Boucher says he has met with "people across the full political spectrum of Pakistan" during his nine visits there, from government parties to Islamic radicals to Chaudhry's lawyer.) Meanwhile, Boucher's boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, demands democracy and media freedom in Venezuela but apparently deems such niceties irrelevant to Pakistan.

With Cheney in charge and Rice in eclipse, rumblings of alarm can be heard at the Defense Department and the CIA. While neither agency is usually directly concerned with decision-making on Pakistan, both boast officers with far greater expertise than the White House and State Department crew. These officers, many of whom have served in Islamabad or Kabul, understand the double game that Musharraf has played -- helping the United States go after al-Qaeda while letting his intelligence services help the Taliban claw their way back in Afghanistan. The Pentagon and the CIA have been privately expressing concern about the lack of an alternative to blind support for Musharraf. Ironically, both departments have historically supported military rulers in Pakistan. They seem to have learned their lesson. It's a pity that those calling the shots have not.


What is at stake? Quite simply, the danger of a civil war or the country unraveling even more dramatically than it did when it lost Bangladesh in 1971.

The establishment that has sustained four military regimes is deeply divided. The judiciary and the legal system are out in the streets, demanding an end to military rule. They are backed by the country's gleeful federal bureaucracy, which resented being shunted aside by Musharraf, and joined by civil society organizations and opposition parties. The protesters' ranks have also been swelled by poor people protesting increases in the price of food and other necessities and shortages of electricity during an already blistering summer.
These dissenters have been joined by an increasingly influential media. Under military regimes, the media always grow in stature as they act as the conscience of the people and give voice to political opposition. For the first time, the public can watch demonstrations live on private satellite-TV channels -- something that has bewildered the army's Orwellian thought-control department.

On the opposing side stand Musharraf's remaining allies. The most important is the powerful, brooding army. On June 1, its top brass issued a strong statement of support for Musharraf that dismissed the protests as a "malicious campaign against institutions of the state, launched by vested interests and opportunists." But on live TV talk shows, pundits are lambasting the army for the first time, shocking many viewers. Such withering criticism has forced younger officers to question whether the entire military establishment should risk the public's wrath to keep one man in power.

Musharraf is also supported by the business community, which has experienced economic stability and rising investment from the Arab world during his regime. He also retains -- for now -- the backing of a motley group of politicians who came to power after the military rigged elections in 2002, although many of them are considering jumping ship or ditching Musharraf.
Running parallel to this domestic political crisis is the growing problem of radical Islam; the Taliban and al-Qaeda are now deeply entrenched in the tribal border belt adjacent to Afghanistan. These groups gained political legitimacy last year when Musharraf signed a series of dubious peace deals with the Pakistani Taliban. They are now coming down from the mountains to spread their radical ideology in towns and cities by burning down DVD and TV shops, insisting that young men grow beards, forcibly recruiting schoolboys for the jihad and terrifying girls so that they won't attend school. The military has refused to put a brake on their extremism.

Musharraf promised the international community that he would purge pro-Taliban elements from his security services and convinced the Bush administration that his philosophy of "enlightened moderation" was the only way to fend off Islamic extremism. But Pakistan today is the center of global Islamic terrorism, with Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mohammad Omar probably living here.
Instead of confronting this threat, the army has focused on keeping Musharraf in power -- negotiating with extremists, letting radical Islamic students set up a base in Islamabad and so forth. Meanwhile, to spook the West into continuing to support him, Musharraf continues to grossly exaggerate the strength of the Islamic parties that he warns might take over his nuclear-armed country. In fact, the United States would be far safer if it pushed for a truly representative Pakistani government that could marginalize the jihadists, rather than placing all its eggs in Musharraf's basket.

How will the current crisis end? It's unlikely to peter out; the movement has lasted three months now, despite Musharraf's intelligence services' prediction that it would end within days. And Chaudhry is a formidable foe -- not a mere politician (who, in Pakistan, are inevitably corrupt) but a judge perched above the political fray.

The logical strategy for Musharraf would be to apologize to the nation for hounding the chief justice, bring all parties to a reconciliation conference and agree to early elections under a neutral interim government. If he still insisted on running for president, he would have to agree to take off his uniform first so that no matter who won, Pakistan would return to civilian rule.

But how can a commando general carry out such a U-turn without losing face, especially when he is being publicly backed by the White House? A secretary of state with vision -- a James Baker or a Madeleine Albright -- could have recognized that Musharraf's time is up. Instead, we have Rice and Boucher and Cheney, who -- just as in Iraq -- can only reinforce a failed policy. Washington is doing itself no favors by serving as Musharraf's enabler. Indeed, the Bush administration's policy of sticking by Musharraf is fast becoming eerily reminiscent of the Carter administration's policy of sticking by the shah of Iran.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, is the author of "Taliban."

Anonymous said...

A nation created for the betterment and independence on the muslim of the subcontinent has become a cruel joke!
First there were feudal lords and landowners with their hired thugs/guns ruling over the masses. Instead of demolishing the feudals we now have army thugs with guns ruling the country.
I find future completly bleak!! Even if there is a mass civilian uprising who is going to enforce law/constitution ?
Ultimately its the army thugs with gun. Who is going to bell the cat?
P.S. Did anybody hear about some 10+ navy servicemen desserting during navy's joint excercise with Japan?

Anonymous said...

David Rohde in today's NYT
Can Pakistan Mix Well With Democracy?

TENS of thousands of pro-Western moderates took to the streets of Pakistan recently and demanded an end to military rule. Benazir Bhutto , the country’s exiled former prime minister, is offering to return and push for democracy, which she says would act as an antidote to extremism.

Before the Iraq war, the United States might have welcomed such a vigorous call for democracy. But with the war faltering, Bush administration officials, and some Democratic presidential candidates as well, are reacting with caution, fearing that democracy could be a recipe for instability. While the country’s military has a mixed record, they fear change, however well-intentioned, could endanger American security. George Perkovich, a senior analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described the state of debate in Washington this way: “People on the right and the left will say: ‘You’re just going to repeat the same mistake as Iraq. Don’t you understand that these places can’t change and that you’re much better off having someone with a heavy hand, who can have some kind of order versus disorder?’ ”

Pakistani moderates find the American attitude bewildering and dangerous. Just as they are beginning to believe democracy might return, they complain, the United States is abandoning them.

“This is a movement of the enlightened, urban upper middle class,” said Rasul Baksh Rais, a Pakistani political analyst, in a telephone interview from Islamabad. “Where in the Muslim world have you seen a movement going on for three months and not a single shot fired by the protesters? It is unique in many respects.”

The stakes for the United States are high. Osama bin Laden and other top leaders of Al Qaeda are believed to be hiding in remote tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan and regaining some of their ability to launch international attacks.

American officials say that while General Musharraf, the president, has aggressively hunted members of Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s cities, he has taken poorly conceived, or half-hearted, steps to gain control of the tribal areas. Critics say Pakistan’s secretive intelligence apparatus has largely turned a blind eye to Taliban forces in Pakistan who engage in attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Pakistani moderates say they can do better. They, like some Americans, argue that countering militants is not just a military task. It is also important to use political and economic programs, they contend, to prevent extremism’s spread. A civilian government, the argument goes, can do that more effectively than a military one.

Experts like Mr. Rais and Mr. Perkovich say the vast majority of the population and the military remains moderate. So, they argue, Pakistan has little chance of becoming so unstable that hard-line Islamists will gain power or seize control of one of the country’s nuclear weapons — the worst nightmare for Western officials.

General Musharraf has not reformed the country and is quickly losing popularity, according to Frederic Grare, a Pakistan expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. General Musharraf has voiced support for democratic reform, but the army dominates Pakistani society as never before. The economy has grown, but long-term changes in land and education policy have not been implemented. The judiciary and political parties have been weakened.

“The longer the military governs, the weaker they become,” Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert with the United States Institute for Peace, said of the democratic institutions. “Only by practicing democracy can Pakistan democratize.”

The counterargument is that Pakistan’s secretive intelligence service would be even less likely to cooperate with efforts to crack down on radicals than it had under a military leader.

Democracy has failed before, points out Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In fact, in an impoverished, ethnically divided nation of 149 million people, democracy has often been linked with corruption and has been overthrown by the military four times.

During the last attempt at Pakistani democracy in the 1990s, Ms. Bhutto and her civilian rival, Nawaz Sharif , engaged in winner-take-all tactics that undermined each other’s governments. Behind the scenes, the military meddled, further destroying confidence. Then it took power and declared civilian rule a failure.

Stephen P. Cohen, a Pakistan expert at the Brookings Institution , said military and civilian leaders there needed to strike a grand bargain that gradually reduced the military’s role in politics, while securing its role in national defense, as has taken place in Turkey and Latin America.

“My greatest fear is that it is too late,” Mr. Cohen said. “Too late for civil society in Pakistan to withstand growing pressures from radical Islamists, and too late for the army to come up with a strategy that would lead to its successful withdrawal.”

Over the last year, some members of Congress and experts inside and outside the government have called for a review of American policy toward Pakistan. They say American aid should be conditioned on improved performance in the war on terror and an increase in Pakistan’s spending on development and education.

But Bush administration officials have continued to express public support for General Musharraf, and Democratic presidential candidates have advocated caution as well. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said General Musharraf had “become quite antidemocratic.” But she added that “we depend on him to try to control the tribal areas, out of which come the resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.”

Senator John Edwards was more blunt. “Given the power of radical Islam in Pakistan,” he said, “there’s absolutely no way to know what kind of government will take his place.”

Mr. Perkovich, the Carnegie analyst, said sophisticated American diplomacy was needed to broker an agreement that gradually shifted power from the army to civilians. But, he added, “neither party has thought about Pakistan and gotten it right.”

“It’s a problem,” he said, “that is bipartisan in its avoidance of a solution.”

_____ Dear Pakistani pro-democracy folks, you not only have to battle the Pakistani establishment but also that of the US! All the best!

jusAthot said...

jusAthot: libertarian:

The point of contention here is not NAM or for that matter UN, though their original aim may have been good, but about the “valor and guts” of some nations/leaders, who stood up against global bully and resist their interferences in their internal affairs…. Who stood up for their Sovereignty.

My other point: Those who imply that Communism and Islam are synonymous are either ignorant or simply have a hatred of Islam.

Polemics maybe part of our traditional baggage – some tend either to ignore the essence of a subject at hand or display flamboyance with trendy but inapt or rather irreverent jargon. Depressing indeed!

libertarian said...

justathot: The point of contention here is not NAM or for that matter UN, though their original aim may have been good, but about the “valor and guts” of some nations/leaders, who stood up against global bully and resist their interferences in their internal affairs…. Who stood up for their Sovereignty.

Vision and execution tend to be very distinct animals. Suffices to say that its difficult to be valiant with a begging bowl in hand. Ironically, the omnipotent US is discovering exactly that vis-a-vis China - which now holds in excess of $1 trillion in reserves - and funds much American profligacy.

jusAthot said...

libertarian:The Necessary Evil Theory– Oh No! Not Again!
“Vision and execution tend to be very distinct animals”. Like the chicken-and-egg theory? To say that such aspiration is simply too lofty for Pakistan or that we don’t have time for vision, for strategies. Dreams and visions are not something that just comes to execution like a software program. It takes time and struggle. The challenge is to ignite the latent energies in the people to strive towards the change of status quo. Mass mobilisation cannot be achieved, if we keep waiting for the redeemer with the “finished blueprint”, or if we are still wishy-washy about Mush, Inc.?

US aid hardly reaches the vast majority of Pakistanis. The ones holding the “begging bowl” are the Military, Inc., and we are certainly not talking here about their valiant-ness.

Anonymous said...

Justathot, I agree with you. This desi is trying to be more American than the Americans. I won’t be surprized, we could be dealing here with some rich son of the Pakistani elite the way he takes U-turns. This is yet another case of misplaced libertarianism. Don’t waste your time with such elite type, who may be trying to create fear and confusion.

Anonymous said...

Very good piece on the CJ ..........


New Pakistan (http://www.new-pakistan.com)

"For a democratic, prosperous Pakistan; at peace with its neighbors and itself"

Issue No 40, June 15, 2007

Ousted Chief Justice is Pakistan’s Accidental Hero Who Threatens General Musharraf
Chicago Tribune Foreign Correspondent Travels with Iftikhar Chaudhry’s Motorcade and Tries to Figure out What is Happening





By Kim Barker

OUTSIDE TAXILA, Pakistan -- The people crowd around the SUV, swallowing it. They climb on the roof, throw rose petals at the windshield and try to shake or kiss the hand of the man sitting calmly in the passenger's seat. Some touch the car reverently, like a shrine. A few sacrifice goats in his honor.

"We will die for you," several men shout.

The center of the chaos, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, refuses to sign autographs or flash a victory sign or even, at times, roll down his window. He is no celebrity, no politician. Chaudhry seems uncomfortable in crowds. He is a marginal public speaker with a lazy eye who reads diligently from prepared speeches but avoids the hand-waving theatrics essential to any popular Pakistani orator. Chaudhry lacks charisma. Right now, he lacks even a job.

But in the past three months, Chaudhry, suspended as chief justice March 9 by President Pervez Musharraf on charges of misusing his office, has turned into an accidental hero.

Instead of resigning as expected, Chaudhry decided to fight his removal, becoming the first senior government official to stand up to military rule and army chief Musharraf since he seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. In so doing, Chaudhry has become the focal point for all frustration with military rule in Pakistan, which has been run by the army for more than half its 60 years.

The constitutional crisis is the biggest threat so far to Musharraf, bigger than the assassination attempts, the Islamic extremists, the squabbling with neighbors India and Afghanistan. It probably will influence the country's presidential elections, due later this year, and the country's future. It has implications for U.S. policy in South Asia because Musharraf is a key ally in the war on terror. If he falls, a new leader might not be as receptive to the U.S.

Musharraf supporters say their opponents have turned a judicial dispute into a political debate. They complain that most demonstrators are political workers, not common people, and that the news media are exaggerating the crisis.

"They show it as a very, very big issue," said Imran Riaz, a spokesman for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party in Punjab province. "That is totally camera tricks and against the norms of journalism."

In response to the unrest, including violence that killed at least 41 people in Karachi, Musharraf has cracked down on the media and on public gatherings. Hundreds of political opponents have been rounded up and jailed in the past week. Public gatherings of more than five people are no longer allowed in the capital, Islamabad, without government permission. Musharraf appears increasingly under siege. Last week he railed against members of his ruling coalition for failing to support him enough.

"I bluntly say you always leave me alone in time of trial and tribulation," said Musharraf, according to The News, an English-language Pakistani newspaper.

Demonstrations are being held daily, and the government seems in a quandary. After the first major post-restriction protest in Islamabad last Monday, charges were filed against more than 200 journalists and politicians. On Wednesday the government suddenly dropped those charges. On Thursday it suspended its new media restrictions, pending a review.

Chaudhry has made seven speeches since being suspended, and each has attracted larger crowds. Each road trip to a speaking engagement has been slower than the one before, because of the crowds and occasional stops for spontaneous lawyer speeches. It took about nine hours to drive the 100 miles from Islamabad to Peshawar, 26 hours to drive the 170 miles from Islamabad to Lahore and 14 hours to drive the 70 miles from Islamabad to Abbottabad.

Symbol of defiance, hope

At this point, the charges against the chief justice seem almost incidental to many Pakistanis. In a country where the leaders of the two major opposition political parties are in exile, where much of the opposition seems in disarray or power-hungry, Chaudhry is seen as a symbol of defiance and hope, the one figure capable of uniting the opposition. Although he has no plans to run for office, stickers show Chaudhry superimposed over crowds of thousands like a political leader, or Chaudhry and the words "My Hero."

"He's no threat to any politician," said Aitzaz Ahsan, Chaudhry's lead lawyer, who owns and drives the SUV that ferries Chaudhry around Pakistan. "But he's a demolition squad. I think this movement has the capacity of bringing down Pervez Musharraf."

Military leaders could ask Musharraf to step down. But it is just as likely that Musharraf will survive by making a deal to share power with Benazir Bhutto, the exiled leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, political observers say.

Chaudhry, 59, is an unlikely star of this drama. When selected as chief justice, he was seen as a stooge of Musharraf, known for siding with the government, especially on revenue issues. "I was ready to take up arms against him," said Muneer Malik, now one of his lawyers.

The chief justice was considered rude, abrasive, imperious. The military intelligence chief also accused Chaudhry of regularly seeking information on other judges for his own database, according to a government affidavit submitted Thursday.

But as chief justice, Chaudhry also launched thousands of investigations into allegations of oppression against the disadvantaged. He ruled against the government in key cases. He reserved his afternoons -- a time when judges were normally off -- for human-rights cases. He summoned police officers, government officials and intelligence operatives. Such independence indicated that he might not support Musharraf if the president opted to keep his army uniform and hold presidential elections with the sitting parliament.

Chaudhry was suspended on allegations that he used government cars for personal reasons and pressured a medical school to admit his son. Almost immediately, the protests began.

On his most recent road trip June 2, Chaudhry left for Abbottabad in the North-West Frontier province at 9 a.m. Ahsan's vehicle, a white 1994 Mitsubishi Pajero, looked like it was on its last wheels. The roof was dented and covered with black shoe scuff marks from the lawyers who had sat there. The sunroof was broken. The sideboards had been removed, to prevent fans from hitching a ride.

The convoy of cars, at points, was able to reach speeds of 60 miles per hour. But once it hit a town, or even a road crossing, crowds swarmed onto the narrow road, bringing traffic to a standstill. People ran through the maze of cars, clutching handfuls of rose petals, trying to find Chaudhry, whom they called "chief." At times it seemed the car would be buried in petals or people. Loudspeakers blared a new song that repetitively asked, "Hey, man, why don't you take off your uniform?"

People pounded on the windows so insistently that it occasionally felt threatening, like in a zombie movie. They shook the vehicle. The chief smiled enigmatically, wearing sunglasses, saying little, because his lawyers did not want him talking to the media.

"I'm quite happy, you yourself can imagine," Chaudhry said at one point, adding that he felt "wonderful." He said he never would have imagined such a scene. "Never, being a judge and a lawyer. Never."

Crowd of 10,000 awaits

That day the chief justice reached Abbottabad at 11 p.m., where a crowd of 10,000 people, mainly lawyers in their black suits and white shirts, had been waiting for hours. Signs of rebellion were everywhere. A moderator announced that the head of the youth wing of Musharraf's ruling party had quit that day to join the chief justice movement. The head of Abbottabad, a military town, gave Chaudhry a key to the city. The head of the courts for the province said the government had asked him to stay away from the rally, but he decided to come anyway.

Chaudhry finally took the stage at 2 a.m., after surreal scenes of dancing lawyers, several lawyer conga lines and spontaneous eruptions of rose petals. Chaudhry looked at his notes, gave five minutes of thank-yous and then said he would make no political statements.

Instead, Chaudhry put on his glasses and read a 15-minute speech about the value of an independent judiciary and the equality of law. He looked down at his notes and occasionally seemed close to mumbling.

No matter. The crowd roared.

Ashi said...

While I am no fan of Musharraf, it is so sad that with his position now weakened, the best that the people of Pakistan can think of as an alternative is to bring back Benazir Bhutto, Altaf Hussain, and Nawaz Sharif. Pathetic.

AAS said...

I agree with you Ashi... i wish people would advocate that the CJ and Aitzaz Ahsan form a new political party. Thus encouraging all sectors of society that there is a chance for real reform for the nation.

I am willing to give this a shot...it can't be worse than any of the same old choices that Pakistan is presented with.

said...

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