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Pakistan's President At His
Dictatorial Worst

By Tarek Fatah

17 March, 2007

If there is one incident that exposes the disingenuous nature of George Bush's "war on terror" and his "crusade" to bring democracy to the Muslim world, it was on full public display in Pakistan last Friday. In an unprecedented move, Pakistan's military ruler, and America's No. 1 ally in the region, General Pervez Musharraf, dismissed the country's chief justice and placed him under house arrest.

The Pakistani dictator, better known on the streets of Karachi and Islamabad as Gen. Busharraf, did not stop there. He rode roughshod over the country's constitution, forming a so-called Supreme Judicial Council, which he ordered to investigate allegations of "misconduct" against the chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. The general, who is head of Pakistan's armed forces, also ordered the judicial panel to conduct its investigations behind closed doors and made it a punishable offence to report on its proceedings.

While the United States has been vocal in denouncing dictators such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, it continues to praise Gen. Musharraf. Just a day before the judicial coup in Islamabad, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan told reporters he was "fully satisfied with Islamabad's role" in combatting the Taliban. "What we have done together . . . is a great reflection of our ties," he said. If Gen. Musharraf is what the Americans have to offer as an alternative to Saddam Hussein, then heaven help the Muslim world.

So why would Gen. Musharraf oust Pakistan's chief justice?

Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan, told me: "The chief justice had been seen by the military regime as a direct threat to the implementation of their economic, political and social agenda. He was removed because he stopped the privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills and was an obstacle in the American neo-liberal agenda for the region." Indeed, the selling of Pakistan's massive public-sector Steel Mills, to a Saudi venture capital group that included Russian investors and a Pakistani group with links to the country's Prime Minister, created an uproar.

Independent analysts had valued Steel Mills at $5-billion, but Gen. Musharraf's government sold it to the Saudi-led consortium for a mere $362-million. The price tag was so low that a former Steel Mills chairman said: "They could have got more money by selling Pakistan Steel Mills as scrap."

All seemed to be proceeding well for the Saudis until a Pakistani Supreme Court judge, acting on a petition that said the plant was a "strategic asset" being sold in haste at a throwaway price, suspended the 2006 sale. Last June, the Supreme Court ordered the cancellation of the deal.

And the judge who stopped the Saudi-Russian group from stealing a Pakistani steel mill? None other than Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Fatima Bhutto, a prominent young Pakistani journalist, told me: "The army has removed elected presidents and prime ministers before, so removing the chief justice of the country is not a big deal for them." Ms. Bhutto, 24, is the granddaughter of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged by another U.S.-backed military dictator, General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq.

Ms. Bhutto believes the chief justice was dismissed because he had been involved in hearing cases related to human-rights abuses, especially those regarding the disappearances of thousands of citizens. He has also been at the forefront of cases dealing with excessive use of force by the Pakistani police, and had exasperated them by "not only taking those cases but also making decisions against the police." She said her own father, Mir Murtaza Bhutto, "was assassinated in one such example of an extrajudicial killing carried out by the Pakistani police force."

For too long, the United States has propped up military dictators in Pakistan. For too long, the people of Pakistan have suffered as pawns, first in the Cold War, then in the American-sponsored jihad in Afghanistan, and now in a fake war on terror. It is time for Washington to stop backing Gen. Musharraf, and it is time that it demand free and fair elections be held without intimidation and harassment.

If the Americans believe Gen. Musharraf has been fighting Islamic radicals and extremists, they are sadly mistaken. On Wednesday, two men and a woman were publicly stoned and shot to death in northwestern Pakistan on the orders of a tribal council that found them guilty of adultery.

Tarek Fatah, a native of Pakistan, is host of The Muslim Chronicle on CTS-TV and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress. He is author of Chasing a Mirage: A State of Islam or an Islamic State, to be published next year.
This article was first published in The Globe and Mail, Toronto


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