Pakistan's largest city Karachi is in flames at the time of writing this Column. More than sixteen people have been killed and gun battles are taking place on the streets. The provocation for this flare-up is the taking over of Karachi by violent gangs of supporters of General Musharraf who were bent on preventing the address by the General'ousted Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhary of the Sindh Bar Association and later a public meeting in Karachi.
The MQM which is a partner in Pakistan's dubious ruling coalition is basically a Mohajir political organization. Incidentally, General Musharraf himself is a Mohajir, namely a refugee from India and it is an appellation that still sticks in Pakistan to differentiate these migrants from the UP and Bihar belt in India from the Punjabis, Sindhis, Baloch and Pakhtoons who are the original inhabitants of the regions that constitute present day Pakistan.
The visit of Chief Justice of Pakistan to Karachi had been scheduled much earlier and with the military regime's connivance the MQM was given official permission to organize its pro- Musharraf rallies on the same day and on the same route as was earlier scheduled for the Chief Justice. General Musharraf's regime intentions were clear and that was to prevent at any cost the display of massive public support for the Chief Justice as happened at Lahore a few days back. It would be recalled from my earlier Columns on Pakistan that General Musharraf had gone beserk. This latest politically irresponsible act confirms this.
This morning (May 13 2007) the roads from Karachi Airport to the venues of the Chief Justice's meetings were barricaded at multiple points by General Musharraf's Mohajir supporters and the civil society including lawyers were brutally beaten and fired upon by MQM activists. This was Pakistan's officially supported Fascism in full play and a manifestation of the type of guided democracy that General Musharraf wants to impose on Pakistan.
What does it portend for Pakistan and the prospects of democracy in Pakistan? The prospects are dismal and with this sort of display of Fascist tendencies by the Pakistan Army regime there are historical pointers towards a looming civil war in Pakistan as it happened during the civil war in East Pakistan leading to the creation of Bangladesh.
For whom do the bells toll in Pakistan? First and foremost the bells toll heavily for General Musharraf who has imposed his military rule on Pakistan and even now after nearly eight years is bent on perpetuating his dictatorship. He refuses to read the writing on the wall and like every military dictator stands obsessed with his invincibility and indispensability.
Secondly, the bell tolls heavily for the Pakistan Army. Its image stands sullied by its defeat in Kargil and its retreat from the frontier areas of Waziristan etc after heavy losses inflicted on it by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. As the country heads towards civil war due to politically suppressive policies of General Musharraf, the Pakistan Army would be called to quell the violence as now unleashed by General Musharraf's supporters in Karachi. It will increasingly be seen as an instrument of military suppression.
Thirdly, the bell tolls heavily for the United States as it is perceived by Pakistanis as the nation which perpetuates General Musharraf in power and is instrumental therefore in preventing the restoration of democracy in Pakistan.
Fourthly, the bell tolls for India as its policies towards Pakistan bear the Washington imprint and even now when all the pointers indicate that General Musharraf cannot roll-back the upsurge for democracy in Pakistan, is obsessed with engaging General Musharraf in political negotiations- negotiations with a ruler who has lost the support and confidence of the Pakistani people.
Many would not know that in the 1990's Karachi was a warring and violent city with armed skirmishes between the MQM and the Balochi and Pakhtoon population settled there. The present Karachi violence sponsored by General Musharraf's regime once again pits the MQM against the Chief Justice of Pakistan who happens to be a Baloch by origin. The ethnic connotations would not be lost in the violence that is bound to cascade despite even the use of the Pakistan Army.
But today the Chief Justice of Pakistan is not viewed as a Baloch but an icon of the political resurgence of the overall Pakistani civil society and its struggle for restoration of democracy in Pakistan. Today, he towers far above General Musharraf in terms of public standing and esteem in Pakistan.
If General Musharraf fails to rein in his impulsive reactions to find military solutions to Pakistan's upsurge for democracy, then he would be repeating a command performance of the Pakistan Army's stoking the 1971 Civil War in Pakistan.