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Pakistan's media slams Musharraf

Pakistan's media on Tuesday was unanimous in slamming the Musharraf regime for forcing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif into "second exile" and predicted "chaos".

world Updated: Sep 11, 2007 10:44 IST

Pakistan's media on Tuesday was unanimous in slamming the Musharraf regime for forcing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif into "second exile" and predicted "chaos" and "political uncertainty" that could yield advantage to religious extremists.

There was unprecedented criticism of Saudi Arabia, highly respected as the custodian of the holiest Islamic shrines and home to thousands of Pakistani workers, for its role in trying to prevent Sharif's homecoming.

Editorials said the Saudi authorities' actions were tantamount to interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.

Under the prevailing circumstances, the media did not hazard a guess on how the government would react to the return of another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who said Monday that she would do so next month.

While the media praised Sharif for making good his promise of returning home, it noted that his denial of a 'deal', in the face of the Saudi claims, had put him in a negative light, despite the Supreme Court verdict.

Daily Times noted that Sharif's deportation on Monday, within a few hours of arrival, was in defiance of the Supreme Court's ruling. How the apex court reacts would depend upon the public reaction on the streets.

The edit spoke of the "declining popularity graph" of the government and the problem of "Musharraf's incumbency".

"Practically no one supports the political programme of a government that has a serving or - and after November 15 - a retired general at the centre of its political structure."

The Daily Times supported Benazir Bhutto's demand to scrap the law that bans a third term for a prime minister. It said: "At the grassroots level, the provision banning the re-election of the prime minister for the third time is not popular. At the intellectual level, the persistence of Article 58-2(B) is no longer defensible." Musharraf has not acceded to Bhutto's demand so far.

On further Talibanisation of Pakistan's polity, it said: "The strengthening of the extremist elements under the influence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda will cast a shadow on the coming general election. The sad fact that the Musharraf establishment has failed to stem the tide of Talibanisation will imperil the onward journey of democracy."

Calling deportation of Sharif "an act of utter desperation", The News editorial said: "One has heard of illegal immigrants and non-citizens being deported to their native countries but this must be the few times ever when a citizen of a country has been 'deported' from his own land upon arrival. The heavens would not have fallen had the government allowed Mr Sharif to return to the country."

Speaking up for the inconvenienced citizenry, it said: "This must have caused considerable inconvenience to hundreds if not thousands of airport travellers as well as city commuters and negates the government's claim that it would deal with Mr Sharif's arrival in accordance with the law."

"Where does the law allow for the sealing of an international airport, cancellation of several scheduled flights, and the imposition of barricades on major city thoroughfares restricting freedom of movement of citizens?" it asked.

It hoped the government realised that its action would be "universally condemned" as being in contempt of the Supreme Court, and was "reflective of a regime that is weak, on the verge of disarray and scared of any solid political opposition".

Referring to the Saudi role, it said the involvement of "brotherly" countries in matters pertaining to domestic politics is something that has shown many in poor light, including the Sharif brothers.

Criticising the Saudi role, The Nation, a conservative paper, said: "The Saudi government turned out to be too intrusive as it forced the Sharif brothers to abide by their pledge of not returning to Pakistan and politics."

"As the government flouted the apex court's judgement by sending the former prime minister back into exile, the Saudis also remained a subject of scathing criticism for their interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country in complete disregard of diplomatic norms," The News editorial added.

Sharif's deportation "will further push the country towards chaos", it predicted, adding: "By overreacting to Mian Nawaz's homecoming they have only strengthened the perception that the present regime's edifice is too fragile to bear the pressure of one individual."

The Post called it "a shameful episode in our sorry history", and said: "Wisdom would seem to suggest that the writing is on the wall, it is only a matter if time before the Musharraf dispensation comes a cropper." It urged that "for the sake of the country, the present incumbents should throw open the contest for power to all comers on a level playing field, without discrimination.

"Wisdom, however, unfortunately continues to be in short supply in the corridors of power," it lamented.

First Published: Sep 11, 2007 10:40 IST