Monday, 5 November 2007

An Emergency in Pakistan

General Musharraf has done the expected by declaring an emergency a few days ago. No one expected the not-so-good general to listen to the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court. However, what he's chosen to do might end up doing more harm than good--blaming the militants and the judiciary for his decision will not help the general stay on in power. He should have taken a good look at a not-so-recent Indian historical event--Indira Gandhi's Emergency of 1975-77. By declaring an emergency when the judgement of the Allahabad High Court went against her, Mrs. Gandhi did much to strengthen the impression in peoples' minds that she was anti-democratic. She might well have been fighting to contain several forces that might have torn the country apart, but she ended up doing more harm than good. The Emergency in India did more to strengthen extra-constitutional centres of power and increased public distrust of the entire politician-bureaucrat-police setup in the country. It did more to create a wave of sympathy for any movement that was in the least anti-government--hence the support for Khalistan and Azaad Kashmir in the 1980s and 90s. She did revoke the Emergency she declared in 1977--and lost the elections held subsequently.

Declaring an Emergency is the General's way of saying that he cannot deal with dissent. He is an Army man and cannot abide the checks and balances that are a part of constitutional government. However, the militants on the borders cannot be dealt with using only military means. Again, the general should take a leaf out of the Indian book and install truly democratic governments, not only in Islamabad, but also in each Pakistani province, city and village. Only a truly democratic society can deal with militancy in all its forms--a military dictatorship not only stifles democracy but might well give rise to the causes of militancy.

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