For those who have never had to live under [Musharraf’s] regime, the general/president can come across as a rakish, daredevil figure. His résumé is impressive: here’s a man who can manage the frontline of the Western world’s war on terrorism, get rid of prime ministers at will, force his political opponents into exile and still find the time to write an autobiography. But ask the lawyers, judges, arts teachers and students behind bars about him, and one will find out he is your garden-variety dictator who, after having spent eight years in power, is asking why can’t he continue for another eight.
General Musharraf’s bond with his troops is not just ideological. Under his command Pakistan’s armed forces have become a hugely profitable empire. It’s the nation’s pre-eminent real estate dealer, it dominates the breakfast-cereal market, it runs banks and bakeries. Only last month Pakistan’s Navy, in an audacious move, set up a barbecue business on the banks of the Indus River about 400 miles away from the Arabian Sea it’s supposed to protect.
It’s a happy marriage between God and greed.
For now, the general’s weekend gamble seems to have paid off. From Washington and the European Union he heard regrets but no condemnation with teeth — exactly what he counted on.
General Musharraf has always tried to cultivate an impression in the West that he is the only one holding the country together, that after him we can only expect anarchy. But in a country where arts teachers and lawyers are behind bars and suicide bombers are allowed to go free, we definitely need to redefine anarchy. [complete article]
Editor’s Comment — What Musharraf has done is to expose the lie embedded in the war on terrorism. The terror threat is so large, so ubiquitous, and so diabolical that it is supposedly worse than tyranny. In the 21st century, oppression has become a tolerable part of the landscape. Curious indeed it is that those among Musharraf’s allies who so frequently declare that terrorism is the greatest threat to our freedom, appear so blithely indifferent when they witness freedom being taken away. If they show some discomfort it is because they know that their own hypocrisy is now on full display.
Three days after President Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule, a deep sense of anxiety prevails among Pakistan’s students, rights activists and intellectuals, who say the mass arrests being carried out by the government mark an unprecedented assault on civil society.
When Musharraf suspended the constitution Saturday, he said he had been forced to act by rising extremism and judicial interference in his efforts to protect the country. But in Lahore, an ancient city that has long served as the cultural and intellectual heart of Pakistan, many government critics see a smoke screen being used to quash opposition.
Over the weekend, they note, an estimated 70 community leaders were arrested here during a cookies-and-tea meeting of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Those detained included a college dean, a well-known poet, an economics professor and a board member of the International Crisis Group. [complete article]
See also In Pakistan, echoes of Iran (David Ignatius).