Extreme circumstances call for extreme measures, and it is with this rationale that General Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan last week.
Evoking the country’s general instability due to the threat of extremist violence and blaming an inefficient judiciary entity, Musharraf declared the emergency, suspended the constitution, established a Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) cemented martial law and suspended or deposed the entirety of the judiciary body.
Today, the situation remains confusing, with conflicting statements emerging from Musharraf’s camp regarding how long the state of emergency will last.
However, for McGill student Chaudhry Taimur Ahmed Khan, a member of the Pakistani Student Association, the situation back home is not as dire as it appears according to mainstream media reports.
“What matters to the Pakistani people is that they have the resources to feed themselves, to take care of their families and to remain unthreatened,” said Khan.
He said that so far, the situation has not threatened the general livelihood of common folk, only those institutions antagonistic to Musharraf’s political body.
“Despite what the media is implying, reactions to the imposition of the state of emergency have remained mixed amongst Pakistani people,” Khan said. He claimed that most of the dissent stemmed from intellectuals, lawyers, academics and the student body.
Nevertheless, Khan added, a sentiment of insecurity is still felt by those on the ground in Pakistan and by their family members abroad.
“The threat of detainment is still a very real one, especially under martial law, where anyone can be arrested and prosecuted without proof or trial.”
On Saturday, Pakistani Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum issued a statement declaring that military rule would be lifted within a month.
Musharraf himself, in a statement last Sunday, announced that general elections would be held by Jan. 9, but that emergency rule would be necessary to insure the safety and effectiveness of the process.
James Devine, lecturer in political science at Concordia University evaluated Musharraf’s actions: “When a leader makes a move like this in a military dictatorship, the long term effect is often to hinder the democratic process by the weakening of key institutions,” he said.
Khan said that without proper leadership, “the public opposition to Musharraf’s actions remains ineffective.”
Many see Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani prime minister and leader of the Pakistani People’s Party, as the only figurehead capable of rallying the masses in opposition to the state of emergency.
Khan said that while Bhutto is certainly an important figure, many Pakistanis remain cautious with their support for her politics. He blamed her political ties to Musharraf and her reputation as a cutthroat politician for this sentiment.
Musharraf’s legitimacy as military ruler and president of Pakistan have steadily diminished over the past year.
In March 2007 Musharraf had received considerable criticism for suspending Chief Justice Muhammad Chaudhry over claims of misconduct. Following widespread protests, Musharraf was forced to reinstate Chaudhry, dropping the charges.
Musharraf’s popularity continued to decline following the incident at the Red Mosque in July. The Pakistani people deemed the general’s handling of the situation grossly inadequate.
Furthermore, the President’s involvement in supporting the War on Terror and Islamic extremism had been met with considerable resistance from fundamentalist Islamist communities and tribesmen inhabiting the regions bordering Afghanistan.
The final threat to Musharraf’s legitimacy came when the judiciary refused to acknowledge the legality of his reelection as president in the Oct. 6 presidential elections.
According to Khan, this chain of events all contributed in bringing about the current state of emergency. Khan spoke from a personal perspective, having spent the entire summer home in Pakistan and witnessing the air thickening with political tension
“You could tell that something like this was coming, there had been rumors of the imposition of a state of emergency since August. The only difference is that military rule is usually enforced suddenly, not hinted at months in advance,” said Khan.
He explained that there had been a positive change brewing in Pakistan over the last year. The judiciary for the first time in the country’s history had found itself with a body of judges dedicated to upholding the rule of law and operating as a foil to abuses of power. In light of this development, the threat of emergency rule had initially been used to apply pressure to the dissenting judiciary. When that failed, the only option left was for Musharraf to enforce martial law in order to regain power.