Pakistan's military dictator, General Musharraf has gone berserk in the last week or so, as evidenced by his impulsive action in suspending the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on so-called charges of misuse of authority. The General has referred the case against the Chief Justice to the Supreme Judicial Council which adjudicates cases against sitting judges. The charges have not been made public but are believed to be political to ease out an activist Chief Justice in an election year.
Pakistan, it seems was awaiting someone to light the spark of the simmering discontent against General Musharraf and frustration with Army rule of the last seven years. The lawyers fraternity of Pakistan rose in unprecedented unison all over the country against General Musharraf's dictatorial decision against Pakistan's highest Constitutional authority. Their widespread and sizeable demonstrations especially in Islamabad and Lahore were brutally handled by the Pakistan Police using force and violence to break up the protests. Courts in Pakistan have been paralyzed for the last one week as the lawyers have been on strike since the arrest of the Chief Justice.
The lawyers got incensed with General Musharraf in the manner this unprecedented assault on Pakistan's highest Judiciary has taken place. The Chief Justice was summoned by Pakistan's military dictator not to the President's office in Islamabad but to the Army House in the adjacent military garrison city of Rawalpindi where the General lives. There General Musharraf faced the Chief Justice of Pakistan in his military uniform as if to impress that the Pakistan Army and its Chief are supreme in Pakistan's affairs. The Chief Justice was confronted with the complaints against him and anything else that the Government had against him. He was pressurized by the Pakistan Army Chief( read President) to submit his resignation. The Chief Justice of Pakistan was detained in Army House for nearly eight hours and it can be imagined what sort of pressures must have been brought against him.
Pakistan's Chief Justice in a rare display of courage refused to submit to the General's pressures and refused to offer his resignation under duress. He was reluctantly allowed to leave for his residence but was prevented by security police to proceed to the Supreme Court. As the news spread of his detention and his suspension the Pakistan lawyer fraternity was up in arms.
The Chief Justice was virtually placed under house arrest as his telephone links were severed and no access was allowed to his residence for his fellow judges, media persons, the lawyer fraternity or his relatives. What was the military dictator afraid of? Obviously something was amiss as so far Pakistanis were submitting themselves to the General's dictates.
Following the above, when the Chief Justice was to appear before the Council, he along with his wife preferred to walk to the Supreme Court accompanied by thousands of protesting lawyers. The police physically and forcibly pushed him into an official car. The Chief Justice's wife was also physically jostled by the police along with his daughters. The thousands of lawyers present including women lawyers were brutally beaten up with many with bleeding faces and bodies as per visuals on TV. The police brutalities shocked the general public which so far has been apathetic to military rule and many joined the lawyers.
Pakistan's TV Channels coverage of these demonstrations was blacked out and newspapers warned not to highlight the protests.
Pakistan all of a sudden seems to have been galvanized by the Chief Justice's spirited defiance of Pakistan's military dictator who seemed to have gone berserk and the brutality of the security and police who used force and violence on the person of the Chief Justice. It was unprecedented even for Pakistan under military regimes.
Last night hundreds of opposition politicians and lawyers were arrested in midnight swoops to pre-empt the continued demonstrations. Even Pakistan Army's former head of ISI Lt General Hamid Gul stood injured in police brutality.
General Musharraf in his normal senses should not have gone in opening a new front of confrontation with an assault, both literal and figurative, on the country's Supreme Court and the lawyer fraternity. In the preceding weeks Pakistan as it was reeling under suicide bombings and sectarian violence, the writ of the Pakistan Army was being challenged by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and the United States had already given him an ultimatum to control the Taliban or else US and NATO Forces would undertake military operations within Pakistani territory.
The common assessment in Pakistan is that General Musharraf was rattled by the judicial activism of the Chief Justice and feared that in this election year when his decision to be both President and Army Chief would be constitutionally challenged, the Chief Justice could not be relied to be favorable to the General. The Chief Justice had also put Pakistan Army and ISI authorities in the dock to produce scores of Pakistanis missing in response to habeous corpus petitions filed against them. It is being said that these missing Pakistanis were handed over to United States authorities without going through the legal process.
General Musharraf seems to have under-estimated that his wanton assault on the Judiciary would generate such widespread political protests which now cuts across the legal fraternity and portends of snow-balling into a wider mobilization of political protests. In any case the spark of challenging General Musharraf's rule has been lit even if it takes time to fan out.
General Musharraf's image within Pakistan has taken a severe beating recently. This was most vividly brought out in a BBC report which showed a demonstrator holding a placard with General Musharraf's sizeable photograph and inscribed on his forehead was the word 'Treacherous'. Above and below the photograph were banner-lines which read 'Enemy of Islam' and 'Great Terrorist'.
Who would have ever thought that on the streets of Pakistan this week the General's effigies would be publicly burnt. A marked contrast surely, to all the honorifics that have been bestowed on him by Washington and New Delhi in recent times.
The United States may have been his patron saint since 9/11 and General Musharraf and the US Administration may have mutually induced a sense of the Pakistani General's indispensability, but surely the United States would not physically intervene in Pakistan to keep General Musharraf in power.
Having gone berserk on an issue which his natural commando instincts should have prompted him to keep clear of, General Musharraf seems to have hastened the trajectory of his demitting power in Pakistan.