President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan filed his nomination papers on September 27 amid protests from the Opposition and a wave of arrests. Faisal Hashmi looks at the Pakistan scenario over the last several months, from mid-2006 onwards.
Through much of the year 2006 till the writing of this piece Pakistan, a significant Muslim country in terms of its high quality human resource and technological development, had been passing through a bad patch.
A front line state in the Western and Saudi-backed struggle against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, it contributed mightily with its military, technological and efficient intelligence resources to the liberation of Afghanistan. However, it was caught up in a web of developments arising out of the perfectly laudable struggle for independence of Afghanistan. The Americans call it "blowback", that is, the inevitable consequence of a government policy or action.
The blowback of freeing Afghanistan with the help of folk like al-Qaeda reached the United States in the form of September 11 events. At least this is what the Americans would like to think. Ironically, the blowback of September 11 reached Afghanistan in the form of a massive US-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
Naturally, in such a great storm of multiple blowbacks Pakistan was sucked into the so-called war on terror. That turned out to be extremely destabilising for this country. Parallel developments like the killing of tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, chief of the Bugti tribe in Baluchistan, in August 2006 created a massive upheaval in the tribal region.
Bugti was killed in a protracted face-off between Pakistan’s security forces and his tribal militia in his mountain hideout in southwest Pakistan. Bugti was no ordinary tribal leader. The Oxford-educated tribal chieftain had earlier served as the chief minister and governor of Baluchistan. Twenty Pakistani soldiers and 30 tribal militiamen were killed with Bugti, who had been demanding greater autonomy for his state and a larger share in the oil revenues.
Pakistan had been lurching from one crisis to another over the last several months.
Another troubling development that attracted the world’s attention was an armed confrontation between students holed up in Islamabad’s Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) and adjoining women’s madrasah on one side and security forces on the other, in June-July 2007. Leaders of the mosque Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi and his brother Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi had announced that they would be running a Sharia-based dispensation in Islamabad from the mosque. The students kidnapped several civilians and policemen saying the kidnapped persons had violated Islamic Sharia.
Elder Pakistanis feared that such challenges to the state’s authority would ultimately lead to a bloody showdown. Soon the worst fears were confirmed as the mosque was surrounded by security forces who demanded surrender of the militants. A gun battle ensued between the two sides when negotiations for surrender failed. Before that 86 people, including 27 women and three children, were rescued by security forces. Maulana Abdul Aziz was caught trying to run away in a burqa and high heels.
In a blaze of gunfire at least six security men and a 100 rebels were killed before the mosque was captured. The dead included Maulana Abdul Rashid. The event triggered heavy rebel attacks on security personnel in the troubled Waziristan. The rebel attacks, claiming dozens of lives on the government side, continued making Pakistanis worry about the integrity of the country.
A tremendous row was kicked up when President General Pervez Musharraf suspended the country’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in March. This led to massive demonstrations by lawyers in the big cities. Over the weeks and months common people joined the ever-larger crowds of demonstrators. At one of the demonstrations in Karachi 49 people were killed when pro-government demonstrators clashed with them.
After months of struggle Justice Chaudhry was reinstated in July, but passions ignited against quasi-military rule did not cool down easily. When President Musharraf filed his nomination on September 27 for presidential elections to be held on October 6 the opposition objected vociferously. The opposition had been agitating for weeks demanding that President Musharraf give up his position as army chief before filing his nomination papers. Government lawyers explained that General Musharraf would resign his army position if he was elected president. Otherwise he would continue to be the army chief.
The opposition said the president’s stance was legally untenable. To prevent another round of protests and demonstrations over the alleged “illegality” of the president’s stance, a wave of arrests began in which hundreds of opposition leaders and activists were rounded up. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the arrests were "troubling". The United States asked President Musharraf to see to it that the elections are fair. Despite rumblings beneath the surface Pakistan seemed to be stable at the time of writing this.g