“For more than five months the United States has been trying to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of President Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Muslim world. On Saturday, those carefully laid plans fell apart spectacularly,”— The New York Times, Nov 4.
President Pervez Musharraf’s Nov 5 meeting with foreign diplomats contained some high and low points. But most of the envoys came back, as some of them confided to Pulse, with the sense that the president seemed full of himself, and mostly recounted what he had told the nation late Saturday. An unconvincing defense of the “extra-constitutional step”(as conceded by prime minister Shaukat Aziz a day earlier).
The president, who had clearly appeared as a stiff figure the fateful Saturday evening , sounded and looked more relaxed in his interaction with foreign diplomats, recalled one of the participants.
The general came across as a “self-righteous person who was trying to take his guests for a ride, as if they were from an entirely different planet,” commented one of the diplomats.
Another recalled that Musharraf almost lost his cool when one of the ambassadors drew his attention to the arrests of lawyers and civil society representatives, including Asma Jehangir.
“She is an anti-state person, doesn’t know what she is talking about,” said a visibly upset Musharraf, according to the diplomat, who thinks the president sounded out of synch with reality when he brushed aside concerns about human rights activists and lawyers.
What merits mention here is that last summer the New Yorker magazine had compared Asma Jahangir to the Burmese prisoner of conscience Aung San Suu Kyi but here was General Musharraf castigating her for being “anti-state.”
For him, said the envoy, the arrests of a few “handful of people” don’t mean much and he still looks infatuated with power. This clearly came across in the justifications that he gave for imposing the state of emergency.
Little did the president realize that most among his audience minutely follow the developments and are better informed than many of the Pakistanis.
Another envoy also sounded annoyed over the “flimsy” justifications that the president offered. “Most of the time the president tried to paint chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his colleagues in black,” said the envoy.
We know that it was Justice Abbassi and Justice Khokhar (the two took oath under the PCO) who took suo moto notice of complaints by affectees of the Lal Mosque operation and ordered release of the 60 “terrorists” that the general mentioned in his speech, argued another EU diplomat privy to the Musharraf briefing.
Most European Union diplomats sounded unhappy after reading the press reactions to the official EU statements. We as EU envoys are certainly not happy over the events and strongly demand the return to democracy, said one of the participants.
“We in no way support emergency, nor do we expect Musharraf to renege on his promises on uniform and democracy that he has been making to us and to the rest of the world during his tours,” said another envoy after the briefing. Observers and readers in fact had taken exception to the resolve by EU “to continue supporting Pakistan in the war against terrorism.”
Foreign diplomats also read with great disappointment the proclamation by “the chief of army staff.”
“For five years Musharraf insisted to be known as the president and even the current crisis also revolved around his role as the president but he simply undid everything to that effect by issuing the emergency proclamation,” pointed out a West European diplomat.
Some foreign observers liken the emergency proclamation as a “critical misstep” – one of the many this year including the forced dismissal of chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
Having realized he was left with fewer options, Musharraf thought emergency was the only means of keeping his presidency alive.
Apologists like Mushahid Hussein attempted to convey that they advised Musharraf against the extreme step and that “he took this step only reluctantly.”
But even if we accept their logic, the events only underscore the behaviour of General Musharraf, who “chose to shoot his way out of tight situations, using force rather than finesse,” as he did in 1999.
This description of the developments here also coincided with what Dr Faqir Hussain, the ex-registrar, thinks: “Whoever is doing this is committing one illegality after another, there is no law in Pakistan any more”” Hussain told foreign and local journalists.
Nothing could be more ironic than the fact that less than 24 hours after Gen Musharraf justified imposing emergency rule to fight Islamist extremism, the authorities in South Waziristan released 25 Taliban militants of the wanted Baitullah Mehsood in return for over 200 soldiers who had been ambushed and held captive since August 30.
The fact also remains that militancy, extremism, and suicide attacks – at least 21 suicide strikes since July along, have spread manifold under Musharraf, rather than being contained. Therefore, the Western hope that the general remains the best hope for fighting terrorism also seems to be extremely misplaced.