Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has now lifted the state of emergency he imposed on November 3. But many analysts are skeptical that it will make a real difference in practical terms. Pakistan’s current political crisis began in March, when General Musharraf suspended the chief justice of the Supreme Court for alleged misconduct. Even though Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was reinstated in July, he was dismissed again, as were other members of the Supreme Court, when General Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the Constitution in early November, under the pretext of combating terrorism. However, critics point out that the Pakistani police appeared to be more intent on quashing internal dissent than on suppressing al-Qaida terrorists and sympathizers along the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistani journalist Husain Haqqani, director of Boston University’s Center for International Studies, says the lifting of emergency rule will make very little difference because President Musharraf has already put an authoritarian structure in place. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Haqqani says the Supreme Court that the President removed is still out of commission, rule of law has not been restored, and Pakistan continues to be “ruled by one man, albeit without the title of a state of emergency.” Mr. Haqqani says free and fair elections cannot be held on January 8 without a free and impartial judiciary and a free and impartial election commission.
Daniel Schearf, VOA correspondent in Islamabad, agrees with Mr. Haqqani that President Musharraf’s lifting of the state of emergency has changed nothing on the ground. He points to strict controls on the media, especially television, noting that journalists and programs critical of the government are taken off the air and threatened with fines and even jail time. And President Musharraf has forced media owners to sign a guarantee of what they can and cannot do.
Nonetheless, bowing to opposition and international demands, General Musharraf did abdicate his military post to remain as civilian president. But opposition leaders, such as former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, fear that the elections will be rigged in favor of President Musharraf.
Husain Haqqani notes that opposition leaders do not have the freedom to campaign. For example, he says, Ms. Bhutto lives “under constant threat because the government has not provided her adequate security,” even after an assassination attempt in October. Furthermore, the opposition does not have direct access to television and does not have permission to hold mass rallies.
At the end of the day, Andrew Collier, international editor of The Times of Scotland, suggests that international opinion will prove “hugely important” in terms of keeping the pressure on President Musharraf’s government. He says lifting the state of emergency will not restore real constitutional rule in Pakistan “unless Musharraf withdraws the changes he made to the constitution and reinstates the judiciary.” Mr. Collier suggests that ultimately President Musharraf may have to “give ground on the judiciary,” such as he did on lifting the state of emergency. For now, the end of the state of emergency in Pakistan, while perhaps not sufficient, has been welcomed by the West.
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