Clearly, the presence of a belligerent Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan would have completely jeopardised Musharraf’s efforts to get ‘re-elected’. Not only would it would have drawn unwanted attention towards Benazir Bhutto’s unpopular collaboration with the military regime but it would also have led to a flood of further desertions from PML(Q)parliamentarians.
Faced with this unprecedented challenge, it appears that Musharraf opted to risk confrontation with the judiciary (which had upheld the former prime minister’s constitutional right of return), rather than face electoral failure.
A few hours after the event, on the evening of 10th September, the PML (Q) chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain appeared on Geo television and disingenuously announced that the deportation had taken place entirely at the behest of the Saudis. And further, that while he and his party had demanded that Nawaz Sharif be given an unobstructed right of return to Pakistan, the written request of the ‘Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ had rightly been given precedence over domestic concerns.
Now let us take the Gujrat Chaudhry’s utterances to their implied logical conclusion: A previously disinterested Saudi King becomes adamant that Nawaz Sharif keep to his commitments made eight years previously. Why the sudden change? Why, of course, it must be due to US pressure. Now then why would Washington wish to see Nawaz Sharif quickly shunted out of Pakistan? The answer, of course, is that it wishes to protect Benazir Bhutto’s deal with Musharraf from unravelling under political pressure.
So should we heap all the blame for Nawaz Sharif’s disgraceful deportation on Benazir Bhutto and the US?
A knowledgeable source in Islamabad suggested otherwise. Over the telephone he told me that the regime had cajoled, pleaded and begged the Saudis to honour the ‘commitment’ made to Musharraf which prevents Nawaz Sharif from returning to Pakistan for a period of ten years.
While a spokesperson at the US Embassy in Islamabad declared:
“The Pakistani government’s decision to deport Mr Sharif to Saudi Arabia runs contrary to the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision on his return. Since this is still a matter under legal consideration, we’re not going to offer further comment at this time…With regard to the pledge that Mr Sharif made not to return to Pakistan, these are matters between Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Mr Sharif himself. The United States plays no part.”
Even if the US played no role in the deportation, there is no denying that it remains an extremely involved party. As the New York Times reported:
“The Bush administration official said that one hope now was that General Musharraf’s strong move against Mr. Sharif would enable him to stand up to Mr. Sharif’s allies in Pakistan and go ahead with the power-sharing deal.”
Once it decided to deport Nawaz Sharif, the regime and its agencies have embarked on a ruthless approach towards its opponents. One of its obvious intentions is now to crush PML (N) so that the party is unable to influence the presidential ‘re-election’, and also to make it a less attractive option for those in the PML (Q) currently contemplating jumping ship in Punjab.
Evidently, according to several reports received by your Blogger, the regime is also involved in a multi-pronged approach to deal with potential threats it perceives as emanating from the lawyer community and the senior judiciary.
Some senior lawyers are seething at the recent antics of the ‘defrocked’ judge. Apparently, this regime appointee is being blamed for doling out prodigious amounts of money and official patronage among the legal fraternity. The underlying aim is to fracture the unity among the lawyer community and, unfortunately, it has already borne results. As a Nation editorial noted:
After an extraordinary success the legal community scored in the struggle for the restoration of the Chief Justice because it acted as a united force, it is unfortunate that differences should have emerged within the Executive Committee members of the Supreme Court Bar Association. However, it sounds strange that nine out of its 20 members should have assumed the authority to dismiss Mr Munir A. Malik from the office of its President and nominate Khawaja Naveed Ahmad, Vice President, as Acting President in place of Mr Malik. Its Secretary Zulfikar, who has declared the dismissal as unlawful, supports Mr Malik’s claim that the bar’s roll does not contain any clause of his dismissal or suspension.
Then there was also the 10th September killing of Raja Riaz, a former vice president of the Karachi bar association, who had been an active member of the anti-regime campaign protesting the March dismissal of the Chief Justice. Some lawyers have gone on record claiming that it was a targeted killing aimed at intimidating the lawyer community.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) termed the murder as a “clear attempt to suppress and undermine the process of justice.” The HRCP went further by noting that “The fact that in some cases the State and its agencies are directly involved in threatening the lawyers recently is all the more reprehensible.”
And, of course, the storming of the Sindh High Court by a huge unruly mob on 11 September is a chilling harbinger of things to come as far as the judiciary is concerned. The resulting pandemonium forced a seven-member bench of the provincial high court to temporarily suspend its inquiry into 12 May carnage in Karachi.
According to the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission
The government of General Musharraf attacked the Sindh High Court building today (September 10, 2007), beating several lawyers and using abusive language against the judges on the bench which was conducting an inquiry into the carnage of May 12, 2007 in Karachi, where more than 50 persons were killed. The same day the attackers also shot dead a senior lawyer, Mr. Raja Riaz, outside the High Court building as he was proceeding towards the court. These attacks were lead by the Mutehda Qaumi Movement (MQM) which is the leading party of the ruling coalition.
A Blogger quoting from Daily Jang has reported that on the day of mob invasion several unidentified armed men were seen hovering around the precincts of the Sindh High Court building. According to this report the police remained a silent spectator and did absolutely nothing:
The press is now talking about an executive policy of “defiance of the courts… Scary days are ahead, as the judiciary stands its ground and prepares to redress the plaints of those hurt by the government action of September 10."
With the deportation of Nawaz Sharif the scene of conflict has now shifted from the streets to the courts. The Supreme Court remains under pressure like never before. Already rumours have started about secret meetings with Musharraf’s emissaries. How long can its recent unity hold out against the might of the executive heaven only knows.
The short term future of the country is looking decidedly bleaker.
I’ll let an editorial from the New York Times have the last word
NYT Editorial:RUNNING ON EMPTY
Published: September 12, 2007
The dangers of America’s Faustian bargain with Pakistan’s military dictator are growing more obvious by the day. Gen. Pervez Musharraf was on his way to declaring a state of emergency last month until Washington rightly warned him that such a move could set off a political explosion. This week General Musharraf defied Pakistan’s Supreme Court and blocked the return of his longtime political rival, Nawaz Sharif, and then arrested nearly the entire top leadership of Mr. Sharif’s party.
Mr. Sharif is no Washington favorite, and this time the Bush administration’s criticism of the general’s overstepping has been pro forma. The violent street protests in Pakistan, however, are raising new fears of cataclysmic political upheaval in a country that is both armed with nuclear weapons and the fault line in the fight against terrorism.
Mr. Sharif, a wealthy industrialist, is certainly no hero. His two stints as prime minister were seriously marred by corruption. And there is particular irony in his self-promotion as an opponent of military rule, since the military first helped put him in office. That is until General Musharraf decided to oust him in a bloodless coup. General Musharraf has spent the eight years since squandering his popular support. Pakistanis — professionals, ordinary people and even some in the military — have made clear that they are now sick of the general’s rule. Most want a return to civilian democracy. That should include elections in which all candidates, even deeply flawed ones like Mr. Sharif, can participate.
Despite his much-ballyhooed “freedom agenda,” Mr. Bush acquiesced in the general’s authoritarian rule as the payment for his help in the war on terrorism. General Musharraf delivered far less than he promised, and today Al Qaeda and the Taliban are resurgent along Pakistan’s border regions.
Mr. Bush is compromising his democratic ideals again by encouraging a power-sharing deal between General Musharraf and another exiled and flawed former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, whom Washington considers more moderate and more sympathetic than Mr. Sharif. Even if they can pull it off, such a deal is unlikely to produce a stable political structure because the two leaders fiercely distrust each other.
With neighbors like Afghanistan, Iran, India and China, Pakistan is one of America’s most important allies, and its stability is vital. And there was a time when General Musharraf could have led his country’s peaceful transition to democracy and been a hero. Instead, General Musharraf increasingly risks being toppled, to the likely benefit of militant minorities — armed Islamists or conspiratorial military nationalists — who would gain control over Pakistan’s frontiers and nuclear arsenal.
If the general won’t listen to his own people, Washington needs to tell him the facts of Pakistan’s increasingly precarious political life. It’s time for General Musharraf to leave the military, for Pakistan to hold free and fair elections and for the army to find ways to support, not sabotage civilian democratic rule.