By Sohail Mahmood (for Safe Democracy)
Sohail Mahmood discusses the recent surge of violence and unrest in Pakistan and analyzes the cause of tensions between the current military regime and the opposition parties. He also explains the responsibility that Western powers have in this conflict, backing the regime along the years. In Mahmood opinion’s, the future of Pakistan appears dark as more conflicts across the horizon.
Sohail Mahmood is the Associate Dean of the Department of International Relations at Preston University in Islamabad. With a Ph.D. in Political Science from Northern Arizona University, he is one of the leading experts in the world on Musharraf and Pakistan and has published dozens of books and articles on the issue.
THE BACKGROUND OF THE RECENT TROUBLES GOES BACK TO MARCH when President General Pervez Musharraf removed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry for an alleged misuse of authority. His case was being heard before the Supreme Court which was then examining more than 20 petitions contesting the legality of the suspension, including one filed by Chaudhry himself. Apparently, General Musharraf had abused his authority in suspending Chaudhry.
More importantly, Musharraf’s move had led to a lot of public criticism and charges that the removal was an attack on judicial independence, as Musharraf prepared to extend his nearly eight-year rule by seeking a fresh presidential term at the end of the year. The dismissal sparked widespread but for the most part non-violent demonstrations. It appeared that the move had indeed galvanized the many in Pakistan who were demanding an end to military rule.
CHAOS IN KARACHI
Meanwhile, on May 12, the ousted Chaudhry attempted to deliver a speech at the Sindh High Court bar association. However, Chaudhry and his lawyers were prevented from leaving the airport to attend the bar association function in downtown Karachi, as he was blocked from doing so at Karachi’s airport by members of the pro-government Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which runs the city.
Total chaos followed as hundreds of armed men took control of the streets, and over 30 people were killed in the violence. It appeared that the Government had used the MQM to carry out the violence. Later, more bloodshed took place at Karachi where on May 13 & 14, political clashes left 49 people dead. Later, the combined opposition called a strike to protest the mayhem in Karachi. Meanwhile, the MQM and the opposition parties have been blaming one another for the killings.
THE END OF A REGIME?
These events have definitely weakened Musharraf who was already under increasing pressure, especially from the USA, for not doing enough in the War on Terror. It will be impossible for the Musharraf regime to control the general reaction as the suspended Chief Justice gets more sympathy from across the country. The Opposition political parties have called for a decisive movement to restore democracy in the country. They demand an interim government be formed to conduct free and fair elections after which power be handed over to the majority party in the parliament. But the Opposition political parties lack leadership as both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto have been exiled.
The Musharraf regime is ruling largely by default as the Opposition had failed to get its act together. However, the recent incidents galvanized the Opposition as never before. It was hoped that this may truly be the beginning of the end of military rule in Pakistan. But the ruling military regime has the support of a large Establishment and also is backed by Western powers, especially the United States. And centuries of authoritarian rule was not easily discarded in the Muslim world, of which Pakistan is a part.
It is the responsibility of the Western powers to pressure Musharraf to end military rule in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the future of Pakistan appears dark as more conflict is clearly across the horizon.
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