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His uniform’s showing

With the Pakistan Army’s endorsement under his belt, the general feels empowered to take on all other institutions in Pakistan.

india Updated: Jun 06, 2007 01:41 IST

It would be difficult not to link the current crackdown on the electronic media in Pakistan to the support President Pervez Musharraf got at the 101st Corps Commanders conference last week. With the Pakistan Army’s endorsement under his belt, the general, who doubles as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), feels empowered to take on all other institutions in Pakistan. The conference is probably more important than the National Assembly. The body’s support for the “continuity of the government’s policies, both internal and external… [and] for the pivotal role of the President and the COAS” is apparently based on the need to press on with “the ongoing reform process”. You may ask: what reform? But clearly there is something to that adage that the path to hell is paved with good intentions.

There seems to be a certain inevitability about the developments in Pakistan. For the past seven years, Mr Musharraf has tried to portray himself as a regular chap, taking care to cover his uniform with more than the proverbial fig leaf. But like his illustrious predecessor, Zia ul-Haq, he found himself not only ‘unable’ to stick to his promise about shedding his uniform, but also found it difficult to be elected even by the jury-rigged representative institutions of Pakistan. Realising the need to further undermine the country’s battered Constitution, the General took care to get the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court out of the way.

But that kicked off a storm of protest from the legal fraternity, which, amplified by the media, took on the shape of a mass agitation demanding a restoration of constitutional rule. After other strong-arm tactics to overawe the media failed, Mr Musharraf has now taken recourse to a set of draconian amendments to the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) Ordinance, 2002. Not only can the government now seize equipment and suspend licences of TV channels, but the appellate authority of the Council of Complaints and the National Assembly have also been removed. There is a certain irony here. It was under Mr Musharraf’s rule that the country’s electronic media was born and found itself flourishing. In the past five years, some 50 TV channels and 130 FM channels came up in Pakistan, an action encouraged by the General — himself a media star of some note — to give Pakistanis an alternative to the seemingly all-pervasive Indian channels. A media crackdown by a media-savvy leader is surely a sign of desperation. But it most certainly is not the way out of his self-created dilemma.