Pakistani journalists are accusing the government of trying to silence the free media, after authorities barred them from airing live broadcasts. The accusation follows Pakistan's Electronic Media Regulatory Authority warning to broadcasters not to air live coverage, or they could face prison time and a large fine. Though the government promises to end emergency rule this weekend [December 15th], analysts say some restrictions will continue and opposition leaders warn the upcoming election could be rigged. VOA's Ravi Khanna looks at the issues.
Pakistani government officials say nearly six weeks of emergency rule will end this Saturday [December 15th], three weeks before parliamentary elections [January 8th]. President Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution, replaced the judiciary and imposed restrictions on political gatherings and news reporting. Some American and Pakistani analysts argue the end of emergency rule will not end such repression.
Ahmed Rashid, Author of New York Times Best Selling Book on Taliban. He says, "There are already so many laws in place outside the emergency. For example, there is the Army Act under which civilians can be tried in an army court and charged with treason and can be executed. Now, if you still got laws like that in place, yes you can get rid of the emergency, but you can still maintain the same system of repression."
Steve Coll of the nonpatisan New America Foundation agrees. "Clearly there are still restrictions on place on some of the TV channels. Geo TV has not resolved its relationship with the government. There have been managed cases in the court that have disqualified politicians like Nawaz Sharif and others. The patterns of the tension, the arrests and the management of the elections, all of that is just unclear as to how it is going to unfold," he said.
In a show of unity, Pakistani opposition leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif met in early December to discuss demands for a free and fair election. Though the two former prime ministers did not reach agreement, Hassan Abbas of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government says such dialogue is a good sign. "That is the political process. That's how democracy got itself established in the western world in India and other countries in the world, so if political leaders are sitting together coming up to a common consensus, asking for certain demands which are all pro-democracy, that is a good sign."
Bhutto warned this week January's parliamentary election will be rigged by President Musharraf in an effort to boost the popularity of his political party.
The author Rashid warns a parliament favorable to Mr. Musharraf could ratify the president's emergency restrictions, and save him from any future criminal charges.
"I fear very much that there will be a much bigger crisis in Pakistan after the elections because there is going to be charges of rigging, I think they will not be able to form a government, and there will be increased demonstrations against President Musharraf," Rashid said.
Though army officials claim progress in their effort to retake the Swat Valley [in the country's northern tribal regions] from pro-Taliban forces, just last week a suicide bomber struck. Security officials say ten people were killed at a police checkpoint.
Analysts warn rigged elections could lead to a bigger crisis if tribal militants and terrorists try to take advantage of the situation.