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On the day this feature appeared in the Sunday newspaper Dawn, the office of the HCRP Secretariat was raided by the Model Town Police and over 50 activists, lawyers, students and professors were arrested and sent to jail. They were released on bail on the evening of the 6th of November but the shocking oppression and brutality has not stopped.
BACK TO THE BRINK
By I.A. Rehman
HOPES that saner counsel might succeed in forestalling the extra-constitutional actions that had been hinted at in media reports were obviously groundless. The army chief has taken a step that is fraught with consequences too grave to be contemplated with equanimity.
The sweep and tone of General Pervez Musharraf’s announcement of Saturday have no precedent even in Pakistan’s chequered history. Emergency is a euphemism for a complete break with the Constitution. The ill-starred basic law has been put in abeyance for a second time in about 30 years. For the first time judiciary’s conduct has been offered as one of the main reasons for disrupting constitutional order. The way the judiciary has been purged, and the justice system’s presiding figure and two high court chief justices have been felled, will stir a controversy unlikely to be resolved in favour of the General, even if something more drastic does not happen. Besides the people have been thrown at the mercy of an executive free of judicial overseeing.
The announcement that the federal and provincial assemblies and the state apparatus will continue to function cannot conceal their loss of constitutional sanction. To say that the regime’s crisis of legitimacy has been aggravated is an under-statement. Pakistan may well have been pushed into a blind alley and its capacity to come out unscathed is seriously in doubt.
The decreeing of a second Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) by Gen Musharraf also is something his predecessors avoided. When Ayub Khan found the edifice designed by him collapsing he held his own hand and called upon Gen. Yahya Khan to carry out the mercy killing. No elaborate discussion is needed to show that the issuance of the new PCO puts a cross on everything General Musharraf has done over the past eight years, including the PCO of October 14, 1999 and the LFO of 2002 and the 17th Amendment.
The indefinite scope of the latest proclamation is a measure of the state of despair inspiring it, and the adage that acts born of such despair carry the seeds of their own destruction will unsettle the whole nation with forebodings of an unimaginable ordeal. General Musharraf may be right in emphasising the gravity of the situation caused by the menace of militancy and the receding writ of the state. But there is no reason to suppose that the state’s complete eviction from moral ground will make its writ stronger. This is not the course public opinion at home and well-wishes abroad had been urging upon Islamabad. The whole world was waiting for a transition to democracy after a fair general election. Now everything has become uncertain. The frustration that uncertainty will cause among the people, especially the democratic majority, may bring the state under greater strains than any problem could have caused.
The regime is better aware then the citizens of Pakistan’s need of international community’s goodwill, and one wonders about the nature and size of the risk taken by volunteering for a pariah’s role in the comity of nations. The rhetoric that one hears about Pakistan being the master in its domain does not confer upon the custodians of power the right to push the nation on to a suicidal course. The medicine now administered to Pakistan’s polity is like carbolic acid that does not account for bad germs only and kills the health-giving germs also. Pakistan may have survived the martial laws in the past, the crises it faces at the moment have rendered it incapable of enduring another spell of absolute rule. There is a complete consensus on this point. Extreme measures produce equally extreme reactions. Those immediately affected – judges, lawyers, media community, all those who had set their sights on elections, and the conscious reactions of society – face a grim test. They must avoid rash actions. They will need to find rational and effective ways to play their part in pulling the country’s away from the yawning chasm down the brink.
The foremost need at the moment seems to be to explore the possibility of damage control. The ideal course will be withdrawal of Saturday’s proclamation and actions taken pursuant to it. That should not be impossible if national interest and the will of the people are held supreme. However, if that is not possible for one vacuous reason or another, the least the regime must do to assuage the hurt caused to the people is to make the latest deviation from civilized rule as short as possible, restore the judiciary’s due status, dissolve the legislatures and move to hold elections within the next few weeks. Wisdom demands the courage to withdraw an action that will embarrass the whole country for ages.