Ever since he took power in a military coup, Pervez Musharraf has ruled with a deft hand — for a military dictator that is. But, periodically, the velvet glove has frayed to reveal a touch of steel — the crackdown on Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and the denial of government advertising to Dawn since last December being two examples that come to mind. Now, he has again displayed that iron hand in sending the message that he will not allow Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to rouse the Pakistani masses in the name of democracy. His chosen instrument is the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), an ally of Pakistan’s mohajir President, which was primarily responsible for the violence in Karachi on Saturday that took the lives of 34 people and has left the country’s premier financial and industrial centre in a shambles.
From the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, Karachi was a byword for violence and anarchy. Refugees from India, or mohajirs of the MQM, fought for political dominance, which overlaid already existing Shia-Sunni faultlines. But this time, the cause was not local political rivalry, but happenings in distant Islamabad. The subtext is Mr Musharraf’s efforts to remove the independent-minded Chief Justice so that he does not scupper his plans to organise his re-election as President through the patently undemocratic process of an endorsement by the same national and provincial assemblies that approved his presidency in 2004, and which are themselves to be dissolved this year for re-election.
Chief Justice Chaudhry’s resistance was initially backed by the legal fraternity, but now it has burgeoned into massive popular rallies in favour of democracy in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore. A similar display in Karachi was fraught with consequences, and so the MQM goons and the provincial government were asked to ensure that it did not take place. It is said that Allah, Army and America decide the fate of Pakistan. As of now, there is every indication that the army remains solidly behind Musharraf, and so do the Americans. Just who Allah favours has always been a matter of interpretation in Pakistan. But now the people there seem to be wanting to have their say as well.