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The Republic of Emergency

world Updated: Nov 05, 2007 20:28 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

General Pervez Musharraf has earned the dubious distinction of being the first ever army chief in the country to have suspended the constitution twice and imposed martial law against his own government.

Saturday’s move by General Musharraf, in his capacity as Chief of Army Staff, has led many thinking about where Pakistan will go from here.

Shaikh Rasheed Ahmad, politician and minister close to Musharraf, has termed it “emergency plus” — an emergency that is a little more than what the constitution allows.

Pakistanis are more stunned by the fact that their local television news channels have been off air for the second day now and they are unable to get their dose of incisive reporting, news commentary and live coverage which they seemed to have gotten used to in the past two years.

General Musharraf has been quick to take out the thorns in his government’s side: an active judiciary and the fiercely independent media. The new Provisional Constitutional Order gives the president powers to dispense with judges who do not take oath under it and a new ordinance gives more teeth to the government to check the media, particularly broadcast channels.

Now the challenge before the government is to bring some political sense to Saturday's developments and garner support for Musharraf to push ahead. However, the move to impose the extra-constitutional emergency-plus means that even his own ministers are wary of defending what the average Pakistani feels is an outrageous step.

An editorial in The News, one of Pakistan's leading English language papers, says, “It can be safely said that this is one of General Musharraf's gravest errors of judgement and a sorry indication that nothing has been learnt from the past.”

Another challenge would be to try and correct the fast deteriorating law and order situation in the country. In comparison, placing restrictions on the press and the judiciary was an easy task. The monster of the suicide bomber and the tribal militant are not easy to put to sleep. While General Musharraf was putting finishing touches to his Saturday surprise, militants in the troubled Swat valley were capturing police stations and expanding their control of the valley despite the arrival of thousands of military reinforcements.

The contradictions abound. The government says that despite the fact that it has suspended the constitution, it will try and govern “as closely as possible to the constitution”. Attorney General Malik Qayyum says "only fundemantal rights have been affected”.

As things stand, there are indications that President Musharraf will stay as Chief of Army Staff for as long as the emergency lasts.