The two month old unrest in Pakistan - with at least 40 now dead in Karachi, mostly from the secular PPP opposition party - has finally hit the American media's radar. And rightly so, for as Pat Sharpe, a blogger with over 20 years experience in U.S. foreign service explains over at Whirled Views:
When Pakistan’s extremely stuffy advocates remove their funny little white wigs and demonstrate en masse in the streets of the capital—still dressed for court in their very proper black suits, some pinstriped, and their very proper black ties—you know that a line has been crossed in the course of Pakistan’s most recent interlude of military rule.The question really is which line? Will Musharaff be forced now to accept more democracy and give up his plans to gerrymander his way around the Pakistani constitution to hold on to both military and political leadership or will he impose a clampdown on "educated, secular-minded, democracy-oriented Pakistanis from all provinces [who now] have something important and someone honest to rally around"?
His interior Secretary, Syed Kamal Shah, has said that he is increasing the presence of paramilitary Ranger internal security troops in Karachi and that he has told those troops "to arrest or shoot anyone involved in violence and riots threatening life or property." However, every observer in Karachi yesterday says that the 15,000 police and Rangers who were present in the city stood by and let the pro-Musharaff gunmen of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) attack demonstrators freely until evening. The presence of more troops is a likely sign of reinforcing Musharaff's rule rather than reinforcing the rule of law. Musharaff is blaing the attacks on "anarchists" rather than the gunmen from the ruling party in the city - a party that has a history of violence.
The BBC notes:
Pakistan's military-dominated establishment is known to have used armed groups to control elections in the past.Recently, the exiled head of the PPP, Banazir Bhutto, had been in negotiations with Mushraff which would have seen her return to Pakistan and politics in return for her propping up Mushraff's regime and giving it a veneer of democratic respectability. It was a deal which has been decried by other influential pro-democracy figures and it is probably now a dead deal. A general strike and lawyers' strike has been called for Monday and has been backed by the PPP. Observers say that the violence may now pave the way for the emergence of a combined opposition with the PPP in the lead.
Saturday's violence comes ahead of a general election later this year, in which both Gen Musharraf and the MQM have high stakes. The president wants to be re-elected by the current parliament before its term ends in October. He also wants to remain head of the army.
Rocked by the crisis over the judiciary, and having no national political support base, observers believe Gen Musharraf wants to foster the support of regional forces like the MQM. For its part, the MQM is seeking to maintain a stranglehold on Karachi, its sole powerbase, by keeping rival forces in check. Local commentators say that, in the past, a decrease in its propensity for violence has invariably led to a decrease in the number of votes it receives.
Which leaves Musharaff in the position of relying heavily on foreign backers like the Bush administration for his political power - but even heavier on Islamist elements who already infest his army and intelligence services and provide most of his political backing at home nowadays. I'm pesimistic in the extreme that he will see this as an opportunity to reduce his own power but increase democracy.
Update Via Mediabloodhound, CNN reports that the authorities are trying to clamp down on local media reporting of the Chief Justice's hearing. Probably because it's going to be a kangaroo court and they want to try to preserve some pretense of impartial legitmacy.
On Wednesday Pakistan's Supreme Court banned the media from discussing the legal battle being waged by Chaudhry, saying coverage should not interfere with the process.Yep, definitely increasing totalitarianism and reducing the prospects for democracy.
...It added that media coverage, discussion and analysis that impeded legal procedures would be treated as contempt of court. Chaudhry's lawyers protested the decision and said they would challenge it in the Supreme Court.