Catch-22 for a Pakistani-American

Pakistan Link, Commentary, Dr. Mahjabeen Islam Posted: Nov 09, 2007

Within an hour of learning of the emergency imposition in Pakistan my back revolted by herniating a disc, paralyzing me in 25/10 pain, putting my mind in a narcosis induced not only by opiates, but the shocking turn of events in Pakistan.

Suffocating screams it took an eternity to lie down and thereafter I lay frozen on my side, for the slightest movement sent lancinating pain down the back into the leg. And what a Catch-22, I wanted nothing more than to hear, minute by minute what was happening in Pakistan, and then again there was nothing else I could do.

First the Supreme Court judges who called the emergency imposition unconstitutional were surrounded and held for several hours in the Supreme Court building. Then I saw Justice Abdul Hamid Dogar take the oath as Chief Justice under Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order; maybe his sharply down turned mouth is representative of his deeply unhappy conscience. And then another part of me said, no, people such as that buried their consciences ages ago. Or perhaps he can be likened to members of the oldest profession, where the enticement of money or power can make individuals stoop low.

Then in my pain and narcosis I saw Benazir Bhutto land back in Pakistan from Dubai. It is published now that Benazir knew prior to going to Dubai that emergency would be declared. She called the state of emergency actually martial law. A week ago she had sworn that if emergency were declared the people would come out on the streets. At the time of this writing it is 55 hours that emergency was declared, and a small number of individuals have protested, but 1500 or so lawyers have. Where are the 200,000 PPP workers that came to welcome her to Pakistan? What happened to her promise that the people would come out on the streets? Having trouble, Benazir, getting people to come out to face baton charge and tear gas? Or are you too busy making some back-door deal with General Musharraf?

Prominent politicians from the MMA and Imran Khan and Human Rights Commission members have been arrested. Even judges of the Supreme Court and other judges have been placed under house arrest. But Ms. Bhutto roams free. Where is her indignation? What is her plan of action? And where, oh where, are her protesting people on the streets of Pakistan? Is it that she has no power over her followers or is it that the PPP members are not interested in head injuries, burning eyes and broken bones?

Rubbing the collective Pakistani nose in the dirt Musharraf said in his address to the nation that it was he that gave the media the freedom that it had, but that it had not used it responsibly. Promptly after the institution of the state of emergency, there is a total media blackout, closure of private TV channels and even an attempt to stop the printing of the largest Urdu paper, Jang, which was prevented by journalists protesting.

Musharraf’s speech was long, and I could swear worsened my physical pain. The visual paradox was interesting: the emergency order is from the Chief of the Army Staff but he was attired in a sherwani rather than army mufti. After much prefacing, he finally came to the point. The reason that he had to declare emergency, he said, was because of “judicial activism”. Apparently, judges of the Supreme Court were releasing terrorists and were working against the legislative and executive branches of the government. In essence, errant judges had to be replaced by more compliant ones.

He dedicated a portion of his speech to address to interested folks in the West in English, leading to articles titled “Musharraf defies Bush, snubs Rice”, “Musharraf’s second coup”, “Coup within a coup”. He said the legislative assemblies would continue working. Without a constitution? Huh?

Not caught in the actual thick of it, I have even the physical advantage of a bird’s eye view. And one tries hard to maintain perspective and objectivity and give as much benefit of the doubt as is possible.
But this is nothing more than the thin veneer masking the very brazen face of a deep desperation for power.

At the time of the declaration of emergency, the Supreme Court was in the process of hearing the case of legality of Musharraf’s election as army chief of staff, and there was strong likelihood that it would rule against him. If at that time Musharraf had declared an emergency it would have been a total loss of face and entirely unjustifiable. Now he had used the key phrase for the Americans of “fighting terrorism” and that he had declared an emergency so that the fight against terror could be made more effective. But what is that saying in Urdu about throwing dust in people’s eyes? Or the English one about a gross insult to one’s basic intelligence?

The fact that the grounds for the institution of an emergency are disingenuous is proven by the fact that two of the judges that ordered that the Lal Masjid be rebuilt, that the “terrorists” be released and compensation be paid, namely Justice Muhammad Nawaz Abbasi and Justice Faqir Muhammad Khokhar have now taken oath under Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order.

What has not been seen before March 2007 was the movement for justice and truth by the lawyer community of Pakistan. My pain was intensified by the fear that there would be deaths if there is civilian unrest, but that became somewhat of a moot issue, for there has been unrest by the legal community and thank goodness, no deaths. At least not yet.

And though I would weep if lives were lost, I am disappointed at statements like “48 hours into the Emergency, Pakistan was Afwahistan for rumors of Musharraf being under house arrest, among others, kept circulating”. 1500 lawyers staged protests and the courts were on vacation, basically, but this is not the mood of a nation under siege.

This should not be the response of a nation that is being held hostage to the power-mania of one man. Not after the tremendous sacrifices that gave birth to Pakistan and kept it despite the worst. If Pakistanis remain in the narcosis that I was in for two days after my disc herniated, then we deserve the trail of martial law that we have had.

I cannot sit nor stand for very long and have written this article in many contorted positions — half draped over the bed, lying on my abdomen etc. My pain medication induced narcosis was so much easier, flipping the remote between Geo and ARY, watching from the sidelines.

But this pain is better than the narcosis. This pain balms my mind, my heart and my conscience. The Pakistani nation needs this painful fight for democracy, civil liberties, due process and simply freedom. To rid itself of the yoke of military absolutism forever.

Mahjabeen Islam is a physician and freelance columnist residing in Toledo, Ohio. Her email address is mahjabeenislam@hotmail.com.

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M. on Nov 10, 2007 at 00:42:01 said:

I have been having slight to severe headaches since Tuesday. Like you, I can\'t seem to get enough of news reports and analysis on the Pakistani situation. All we can do is write and join the ranks of protesters. I pray to God that those agitating this injustice are spared physical harm. Ameen.

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