But he is losing the match.
[Text by Maryam Arif, a Pakistani law student in New York City]
The phone rang. My friend from Buffalo said, “Congratulations, Musharraf has imposed emergency.” My friend is not much of a political analyst. The emergency was a big joke to him, as it was to the Pakistan Television Network. While private news stations gave updates on the “breaking news,” the state-controlled channel pretended nothing was the matter. It was song, dance, and Quranic recitations as usual.
My friend was genuinely more concerned about the Pakistani cricket team’s tour to India. But cricket was not in my mind. I was thinking about how the already unstable state of affairs in the “land of the pure” was about to change again.
I learned that in the next few hours.
I called my mother back home in Lahore to confirm the news which was not unbelievable but still a little unexpected (don’t you think?). After all, Benazir Bhutto was back to resume power. We had come to believe that Musharraf and Benazir had already decided the result of the up-coming election and would stage the ballot box drama as per schedule.
Oh, but what to do about the defiant judiciary? The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhry, had been proving to be such a menace – demanding to know: where have “missing people” disappeared to? When would Musharraf take off his uniform? Why does Musharraf hold on to political office when it is unconstitutional? Preposterous. Who does Mr. Justice think he is? Teaching Musharraf the law? Mr. President makes the law, so what if he was never voted into office.
Anyway, the judges rebelled. An upset Musharraf imposed the emergency. This was not the first time a General has imposed an emergency in Pakistan, but this time there is resistance. My mother was actually on her way to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan when I called her. She said she would talk later in detail.
I called again that same night but no response. Meanwhile I heard news of people getting arrested. Images of lawyers being dragged, beaten, tear-gassed in the streets of Pakistan gave me heartache and a throbbing head. The only source of information coming from Pakistan at this time of high anxiety is internet, and it was by no means reassuring. I watched a video. A political activist was being dragged away from his wife. “Leave him,” she shrieked, as the police grabbed him by his arms. “Give me a minute,” he protested, “she is pregnant.” Reuters captured the couple, tight in embrace, as their world fell apart.
My mother, too, was arrested. With her were seventy other peace activists from the office of the best known human rights organization in the country. Senior journalists, human rights activists, members of civil society organizations were kept behind bars for three days; moved from jail to house arrest to another jail; and to the court in between. My mother was instructed to sign a letter begging for forgiveness. She refused. Families of many imprisoned activists held candle light vigils, shouted anti-Musharraf slogans and sang revolutionary songs.
Finally, they were released, but more people were arrested. More protests, more people have been detained under charges of terrorism; more civilians brought to trial in military courts. The “emergency” is creating more “terrorists.” Guess what that means? The U.S. military aid continues to flow in the form of dollars that feed the hungry military economy.
But there is hope. The protest led by lawyers and students is unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. The judiciary inspired the lawyers; the lawyers inspired the students; and the students are awakening with a vengeance. Beware Musharraf, you are losing the match.