Musharraf, the ‘President’ of Pakistan, has announced ‘Emergency Rule’ declaring martial law. In a televised address to the Pakistani nation he stressed that this action is a result of the threat to the state posed by the Islamic extremists in the pro-Taleban border provinces and that the Judiciary has effectively paralysed the state, preventing the state from successfully defeating the Islamic extremists. As this declaration was read troops poured into the capital Islamabad and other major cities, setting up at key points, and have sealed off the central Government quarter of the capital, with troops now surrounding the Supreme Court. Officially the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and at least eight other judges refused to endorse the emergency declaration as constitutional and were promptly ‘relieved’ of their positions and a new Chief Justice, Abdul Hameed Dogar, a Musharraf supporter has been installed as the new Chief Justice. All private media stations have been taken off air and heavy restrictions placed on the media in general.
It would appear that the primary target of this action is to destroy the power of the independent Judiciary in Pakistan, with the Supreme Court preparing to rule on the constitutionality of Musharraf as President; there were growing speculations that the Supreme Court were going to rule against Musharraf.
Cheif Justice Chaudhry was deposed as Chief Justice earlier this year, on March 9th, an action that led to severe protests and massive demonstrations throughout the country. As these demonstrations grew in scope and increasingly threatened the regime Choudhry was eventually reinstated, and for a while the crisis faced by the regime was abated. Choudhry himself, who became in this incident a matyr for democracy, has been quite servile towards the dictatorship up to this point; his main crime in the eyes of the regime appears to be that he advocated a more ‘human face’ for the regime and a greater illsusion of judicial independence. Following the events of March he was however catapaulted into an agent of democratic reform, and indeed has come to represent a more human face, a potential diversion of the current system away from direct confrontation with the internal crises facing it and towards a more superficially calmer system of parliamentary democracy. This of course would be better than the current autocratic regime, but it wouldn’t really solve any of the main contradictions facing Pakistan today.
Pakistan today faces multiple crises, from de facto civil war in the provinces of Waziristan and Balouchistan, to raising ethnic and nationalist tensions in Karachi, a program of mass privatisation by the state with resulting mass redundancies, the consequences of Industrial Relations Ordinance 2002 and similar laws that have effectively banned organised labour, ever increasing inflation, systemic collapse of the healthcare system, other challenges to the general infrastructure (such as electricity and food availibility), and a crisis in education, Pakistan is facing some serious issues.
In the face of these problems and growing militancy within the general population, led by the students and the working class, the regime has attempted to carefully release the pressure building up within society away from a revolutionary explosion similar to that of 1968-69 that saw factories occupied by the workers, students occupy the universities and the peasants occupying the feudal estates. To avoid this the regime has allowed the return of Benazir Bhutto to lead the PPP in opposition to Musharraf, at least in illusion.
It now seems that Musharaff found the consequences of increased official liberalisation to be too risky and has decided now to attempt to strengthen his regime through martial law. It is not yet clear what the immediate results of this action will be. Having decapitated the organised labour movement, and now installing martial law, he has effectively prevented the pressure within the society from expressing itself in a peaceful ‘democratic’ way, and leaves the only avenues for dissent now to be the gun (in the case of the Islamic radicals) and the streets in the form of mass protests and the potential for a new revolution akin to that of 68-69; but one that has learned from the mistakes of that failed revo.
The crisis in Pakistan today is one that has the potential for massive progressive change within Pakistan, and by extension throughout the Indian sub-continent and into Afghanistan.