Mount Against Musharraf Attempt To Sack Pakistan’s
By Vilani Peiris
& Keith Jones
20 March, 2007
and other Pakistani cities have seen violent confrontations in recent
days between security forces and lawyers, opposition political activists,
and ordinary Pakistanis opposing the attempt of the country’s
US-backed military strongman, General Pervez Musharraf, to fire the
head of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.
To prevent protests last
Friday when Chief Justice Chaudhry was to appear before the Supreme
Judicial Council, the police detained scores of political leaders. Then,
in an attempt to stop live broadcast of the protests, which occurred
nonetheless, the police raided the private GEO television station, ransacked
the facility, and roughed up many of the station’s personnel.
Later that day, Musharraf,
who seized power in a military coup in October 1999 and is touted by
the Bush administration as one of its chief allies in the “war
on terror,” found it politic to appear on television and condemn
the police raid. While some low-level police were subsequently suspended,
according to eyewitnesses the raid was led by senior police officials.
On March 9, Musharraf suspended
Chief Justice Chaudhry, accusing him of “misconduct and misuse
of authority,” ordered the judicial council to investigate corruption
allegations, named an interim head justice, and effectively placed Chaudhry
under house arrest.
The corruption charges are
a transparent ploy. It is well known that the current cabinet and the
government benches in the Pakistani parliament are stacked with politicians
whom Musharraf induced to defect from Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan
People’s Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim
League (Nawaz) by gathering, then suppressing, evidence of their corrupt
If Chaudhry has been targeted
by Musharraf it is because the president, who doubles as the head of
Pakistan’s chief of armed services (COAS), views him as politically
unreliable. This at a time when Musharraf needs a pliant Supreme Court
since he is planning to stage-manage his reelection for a further five
year-term and remain COAS head indefinitely, both in flagrant violation
of the country’s constitution.
Under the Pakistani constitution,
the provincial and national legislatures constitute the electoral college
that chooses the country’s president. Convention calls for the
president to be chosen shortly after the electorate has selected Pakistan’s
provincial and national legislators.
underlings have let it be known that the general-president is preparing
to have the current provincial and national legislatures—chosen
in 2002—“reelect” him president later this year. Not
only is the mandate of these legislatures five years old, the elections
that gave rise to them were a travesty of democracy.
Neither Benazir Bhutto nor
Nawaz Sharif was allowed to participate and the military regime placed
all manner of restrictions on the election campaigns of the PPP and
the other opposition parties. Meanwhile, the state machinery was mobilized
behind the pro-government parties and the MMA—an alliance of Islamic
fundamentalist parties that have traditionally enjoyed the patronage
of the military and have frequently come to Musharraf’s aid—was
allowed to campaign freely.
Musharraf knows full well
that his attempt to fix his reelection and to cling to the post of head
of Pakistan’s armed forces will be subject to court challenge.
If he is to have any chance of withstanding the surge of popular opposition
that this latest blatant attempt to perpetuate his dictatorship and
rob the Pakistani people of their basic democratic rights will provoke
he will need the Supreme Court’s stamp of approval.
parties, human rights organizations and virtually all lawyers’
organizations in the country have denounced Musharraf’s moves
against Chief Justice Chaudhry as unconstitutional. The president can,
they say, initiate a misconduct case against a chief justice, but he
cannot prevent a justice from performing judicial functions, let alone
stop him from moving freely about the country.
Even elements in the pro-Musharraf
Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) have sought to distance themselves
from the president’s handling of the Chaudhry affair. PML-Q President
Chaudhury Shujaat Hussain said last week, while on a visit to New York,
that the suspension of the chief justice was an “internal matter
between the army and the judiciary.”
The Musharraf regime is enveloped
by multiple crises. While the Bush administration is demanding that
Islamabad do more to crush the Taliban and expects Pakistan to be on-side
in any US military action against its western neighbor Iran, popular
opposition to Musharraf’s complicity in US aggression is mounting.
According to the findings of a recent poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan,
83 percent of Pakistanis say that in the conflict between America and
Taliban, their sympathies are with the Taliban and 75 percent are opposed
to the US’s use of Pakistani air bases.
The resource rich province
of Baluchistan has been rocked by a nationalist insurgency for the past
two years. And the army was forced to accept a humiliating truce with
tribal groups, after losing some 800 troops in an attempt to extend
the government’s writ into tribal areas that border Afghanistan
and have traditionally enjoyed autonomy.
Last but not least, there
is growing popular anger over the increased economic insecurity and
poverty that have resulted from the Musharraf regime’s neo-liberal
economic policies. The price of essential commodities has risen by an
average of about 50 percent in the past five years.
If Musharraf has survived,
it is because of the strong support of Washington and because the bourgeois
opposition is terrified that any popular movement will threaten the
unity of the military and the power of the Pakistani state that is the
bulwark of their own privileges.
Pakistan’s courts have
traditionally acquiesced before the military and military rulers.
Chaudhry himself has been
a party to a number of rulings that provided a legal fig-leaf for the
Musharraf dictatorship, including the Supreme Court decision that legitimized
his 1999 coup and another upholding the 2002 referendum that installed
him as president.
But since becoming the head
of Pakistan’s judiciary in 2005, he has issued a number of rulings
that have cut across the government’s agenda, clearly raising
doubts in Musharraf’s mind as to whether he can be relied on to
rubber-stamp the general’s “reelection” and, should
the need arise, the brutal suppression of any challenge to his rule.
According to BBC, Chaudhry
told trainee military officers in February that, in his opinion, “General
Musharraf could not continue as army chief beyond his present term as
Just a day before his removal,
the chief justice heard a case related to “forced disappearances”
of persons whom the authorities suspect of ties to Islamacist terrorist
groups and expressed strong disappointment over the government’s
failure to locate the whereabouts of the disappeared. Hundreds of people
have reputedly been illegally abducted by shadowy security forces, held
without trial, and tortured.
Chaudhry was also the principal
author of an August 8, 2006 decision that struck down a deal the government
had made to sell Pakistan Steel Mills, the country’s largest industrial
concern, to Russian, Saudi and Pakistani investors for what most observers
considered a fire-sale price. In his judgment, the chief justice said
the entire transaction was a “violation of law” and raft
with “gross irregularities,” fueling public suspicions that
members of the government and their business friends stood to benefit
handsomely from the privatization deal.
In a judgment earlier this
year, Chaudhry further riled the military and government by directing
the Balochistan government to submit a detailed report about illegal
allotments of 241,600 acres of land to ministers, politicians and other
bureaucrats in Gwadar, the site of a massive new port facility.
to sack the chief justice has clearly gone awry. According to Stratfor,
a private intelligence firm with close ties to US security agencies,
“Musharraf might not be the only casualty to this crisis; the
military’s hold on power could be weakened once the dust settles.”
The Bush administration remains
determined, however, to prop up Pakistan’s authoritarian regime.
After making a ritualistic
appeal for Pakistani police to “allow for free protest,”
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack lauded Pakistan’s
military strongman last Friday: “President Musharraf is a good
friend and ally in the war on terror. He has a vision for Pakistan in
terms of political and economic and social reforms, and he is proceeding
along that pathway.
“Is there more to do?
“But President Musharraf
is acting in the best interests of Pakistan and the Pakistani people.”
here to comment
on this article