Aijaz Ahmad: Tougher martial law may be on the way
ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER/PRODUCER: Amidst rising political tensions, Pakistan continues to slide towards a state of total martial law. Benazir Bhutto is facing her second detention order in less than a week. Opposition politicians have boycotted the upcoming elections and the commonwealth of nations has warned General Musharraf to remove emergency rule or face suspension. For further comments on the ongoing crisis, we go to the Real News Network’s Senior News Analyst, Aijaz Ahmad. So, Aijaz, Musharraf has now come out and announced that elections will be held by January 9th. Do you believe that he’s succumbing to the pressure around him?
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: Well, according to the Pakistani constitution, 15th February is the last day before which elections have to be held. Yes, partly succumbing to the pressure, but also because he believes that the main objective of the emergency, which was to harness the judiciary, has been achieved. And now he better hold elections as quickly as possible, before all of this unravels under further popular agitation.
NKWETA: You speak about harnessing the judiciary. One of the features of emergency rule was to allow military courts the power to enforce judgments on the civilian population. What are the implications of this?
AHMAD: Two or three things have happened. One is that all the judges of all the high courts and the supreme court who were suspected of having giving, possibly, judgments adverse to Musharraf have been removed; and pocket judges, as they’re called in Pakistan, have been put in their place, who will then give a judgment, whatever judgment Musharraf wants. So that’s part of what the harnessing of it is. But there are two things that have happened in Pakistan which are very worrisome. One is that many of the lawyers were arrested under Terrorism Act, not under any civil law of having to do with disturbance of law and order or anything like that. Secondly, now, as you said, the emergency powers allow military courts to try civilians. And the fear is that very many of these judges, of these lawyers, particularly the ones who played a leading role, may now be dragged in front of these military courts and given summary sentences. So this is a very worrisome thing. But the good thing about it is that virtually all the political parties, peoples parties somewhat weakly, but practically all the political parties have said that they will not participate in the election, so long as these powers continue.
NKWETA: They’ve threatened to boycott the election. How will this impact any semblance of having a free and fair election?
AHMAD: Well, three political parties, two of which are very major parties—Jamaat-e-Islami and Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League—they have categorically said that they will not field candidates under conditions of emergency. So has Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf, which is a third party. Imran Khan personally has a very considerable following among the urban middle classes. Now, given that they have refused, Benazir Bhutto’s Peoples Party PPP)under great pressure to say the same thing. Now, the idea was that the emergency would be declared, and then Benazir Bhutto would make some gestures of dissent and so on and so forth, but Musharraf and Benazir would come to an understanding, elections will be held, and she’ll become the prime minister. But the refusal of the rest of the major political parties also now puts Benazir Bhutto under great pressure. And my impression is that things are spiraling out of [the] control of both Musharraf and Benazir.
NKWETA: She has planned a long march. What is the purpose of this march and what will it achieve?
AHMAD: You see, the original game plan was that there would be a joint government, in which Musharraf would become the president and Benazir would become the prime minister. They thought that this deal could be struck. There were different kinds of scenarios. She had to establish as a great democratic leader and so on. But what has happened is that the very secular middle classes of the cities, who are in fact the power base for the Peoples Party (PPP), are so disgruntled by this declaration of emergency that Benazir is being pushed into playing more of a heroic role than she was really prepared for. Where all of that is going we don’t know. Things have, as I said, spiraled out of the control of both, and I won’t be surprised if over the next month, if things really go out of control in the cities, if there are large demonstrations, great deal of police and military violence has to be used, you may see a much tougher version of the martial law. Whether or not Musharraf will be the leader of that martial law we cannot be sure. But it is quite possible that these elections may not get held if there is real upsurge, a popular upsurge, in the cities.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.