Musharraf’s dictatorship spreads to the UK

Last Friday the President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf was asked to give a lecture at London‘s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) about Pakistan‘s domestic and regional challenges. The lecture was described as an “embarrassment” by a number of notable British Pakistanis. I was unaware of the extent to which Musharraf had gone to limit the rights of free speech until Friday, when he supposedly downgraded and accused a senior journalist, M.Ziauddin for “casting aspersions” and “undermining our forces and your own country”.

Having heard the speech and the question put forward by Ziauddin, I must say that I do not think that what he asked was unreasonable. The exact exchange was as follows:

MZ: “Ziauddin from Dawn newspaper, Pakistan. You talk very highly of our law and order agency’s skills in the case of Benazir’s I mean it’s for the foreign… (inaudible) …and then you have talked very high(ly) of our custodial control of our nuclear assets but when high profile suspected terrorists like Rashid Rauf give us a slip and escape, then (then) the people here as well as in Pakistan start suspecting of a skills in these matters. Your comments on that please.”

PM: “Yeah sometimes it is people like you who cast such aspersions and reinforce such views. unfortunately. Er, it is…”

MZ (distant voice): “What am I to do about that?”

Chair (clearly): “What is he to do about that?”

PM (speaking to one of his staff in Urdu): “Yeh Ziauddin hai? Huh?” Okay, ya.”

(Rant begins) “Yes, yes indeed. Er, my remark stands. It is, it is, it is, er it is such aspersions that are cast when we highlight such aspersions and bring undermine our own forces, our own Pakistani forces, your Pakistani forces, your country, such things happen everywhere, and if we start casting aspersions that it is the intelligence which has probably left them, and that is how the foreign media also takes it up, and they think that our intelligence is mollified, our armed forces are with the Taleban, this is what happens. Now actually it happened, yes indeed, it is indeed very sad, it is indeed we trying, we are going to try people under court marshall, for anyone who has not looked after this man and allowed him to escape. So this, these things happens, it happens. So what is the issue? Now you are trying to cast aspersions that it is the intelligence and therefore it is all mollified, and therefore and good name of army, I shouldn’t have praised the army, I shouldn’t have praised my intelligence organisation because they are involved in the escape of Rashid Rauf. I don’t think that is true, and please shake these notions away, it is an incident which we need to address.” (End of rant)

Now, from this exchange, you can see that the question posed by Ziauddin was in fact an open question – it asked for Musharraf’s comments on suspicions within the Pakistani community against the law and order agencies, which I assume in this case means the Pakistani intelligence (ISI) – it does not seem like an allegation towards the President himself. Musharraf’s rant however makes him (and the whole incident) come across as very conspicuous to say the least. Some bloggers, journalists and academics have accused Musharraf of insulting Ziauddin during the event by his dismissive remarks. David Blair of the Telegraph writes:

“As soon as Ziauddin, the Islamabad editor of Dawn, a Pakistani daily, rose to ask his question, Musharraf visibly bristled. Instantly, his demeanour changed from being relaxed and confident to tense and hostile … (his) disgraceful response to an entirely reasonable query spoke volumes about Musharraf. He will question the patriotism of any Pakistani critic – betraying his essential intolerance of dissent. I wonder whether Musharraf would have responded with such rage had a British journalist asked precisely the same question? I suspect he would have answered firmly but politely. Musharraf treats his fellow Pakistanis with contempt while oozing charm for the benefit of foreigners.”

But this has not been the only report about the incident which took place on Friday. Speaking to a senior acquaintance earlier today I came to learn that after the event Musharraf was well and truly frazzled by Ziauddin’s question, palpitating and swearing about the journalist, and throwing around remarks such as “he must be dealt with” and inciting British Pakistani’s to “beat up Ziauddin”. Insiders also claim that Musharraf’s cronies (including Commerce Minister, Akhtar Khan) are now “losing even the shred of respect they had for him after insulting such a senior academic and journalist.” I decided to check other sources to back up this story, and I found a few other shocking statements from people who were with Musharraf in the moments following this lecture.

Musharraf’s dictatorship no longer limits itself to Pakistan, but has now spread it’s wings to the West, he is now freer than ever to incite others and openly threaten anyone he believes is being unpatriotic (against his regime). In Britain, we are given the liberty to speak freely, we are able to question and criticise our country for what we believe is right or wrong. Musharraf says that he believes in democracy, and a society that is equal and just. But where, I ask, is the freedom and justice in this?

[Added 29 January 2008]:

Not surprisingly, Musharraf’s irrational approach to this incident has now provoked questions from Gordon Brown at No.10 earlier today and a media investigation (I use the term intentionally) into the disappearance of Rashid Rauf. Today, the Guardian published a two-page spread on the missing person and raises questions about the involvement of the Pakistani intelligence.

I would love to know the President’s reaction.

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And so the nation weeps at the fading hope of a new future

I thought long and hard about whether or not I should write a blog in tribute to Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto (former Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic Pakistan), but in the end I decided that if I truly believe in democracy, freedom of speech, and equality – then I have no choice but to write a blog dedicated to the dire events now unfolding in front of our very own eyes.There are some who may indeed contest the integrity of Benazir, but I am not here to debate that, but rather to reflect on the tragedy of a failing state.

Wedneday 27 December 2007 is not only the day that we mourn the loss of the first female leader, who at only 35 years of age, led a Muslim nation, but we also bid farewell to any attempt to restore democracy and fairness in Pakistan; an attempt to finally stand up to the probbing eyes of the west, by raising our hands and saying yes – on this day the state of Pakistan will allow it’s citizens to choose who they want to represent them, as their leader – through their own free will.

When I first heard this news, my initial thoughts were not for the loss of a political leader, but of the turmoil that was to follow on the streets of Pakistan – and with it, the scenes my family would have to face that same day. As we sit here in our comfortable homes and our air-conditioned offices, riots have begun to take over an already chaotic country. It is unlikely that elections will go ahead, with Nawaz Shariff “boycotting” the impending elections (which makes me wonder how much of this was a deliberate attempt to destroy this process). This is a country under seige by its own government; a government who although I cannot blame for this awful event, should by some means, be held to account.

Today, the death of Benazir marks another backward step in the progression of Pakistan, politically, economically, and socially. It marks a heart-felt tragedy for three young children who lost a mother. It is on this day that we reflect about what the nation of Pakistan has become instead of what it should have been.

Pakistan: Showdown of a showcase state

What has General Pervez Musharraf done for the country of Pakistan? In my opinion, nothing. Our Dear ‘dictator’ has done nothing to improve the quality of life in the state of Pakistan. Instead he has focused on enhancing an image which runs on the approval of the west; a view that apparently takes Pakistan into a much talked about ‘enlightened moderation’ – banishing extremists and supposed militant jihadis – Thus creating the ‘showcase state’. Pakistan may today be on centre-stage in the global arena, but it is comparable to a sixty year old car which although has a polished and shiny exterioir, is totally busted from inside. The past eight months have exposed this car  revealing it completely, standing on all fours, with a ghastly spotlight, glaring upon it.

So long for being figurative, the civil society of Pakistan, for the last nine years has been almost deaf, dumb and blind; confused into thinking that they are the most modern societies of the world; not least because they now get free SIMs, 50 odd channels and a Fashion TV owned by a Pakistani organization (note that interestingly enough FTV Pakistan is banned in India because of its content). But instead, for the last fifty years, Pakistan has been slipping away to corrupt corporate hands via the back door, without knowledge or concern of its people. Even Pakistan’s largest telecommunication network, PTCL was sold for a quick buck, and if somebody had not called on the Supreme Court Pakistan’s Steel Sill would have been sold too. It seemed, until then, that nobody cared. 

The mindset of the people of Pakistan truly began to change post March 2007, when the real face of Musharrf was exposed. From there onwards the path of Gen. Musharraf went downhill and awareness amongst the masses has increased. But so desperate for power he is, that Mushrraf seemed to make one blunder after another. Some say he has no chance of being let alive if he steps out of Government Head Quarters or the President’s house and that is the reason that he is craving for power. It seems funny, but it could be true – Musharraf has made an array of enemies in his regime, and of course the King’s party, which is also going to be blown away with the removal of Musharraf.

The only thing that makes this second coup any different from the first is that Pakistan’s students are now standing against it. The Editorial in the Dawn describes the situation:

Apart from what future does this student protest have, it’s remarkable for another extremely important reason. Poster-children of Pervez Musharraf’s enlightened moderation and economic upswing that he claims to have ushered in, the students of these elite institutions were least expected to speak up against his policies. Now that they have done so, catching the analysts and media on the wrong foot, they show how widespread the anger against Musharraf is.”

Dawn, 11-11-07, Protest on Lahore campuses

Thus the only good thing resulting from Musharra’s self-imposed emergency has been the growing realization and sentiment against a dictator that has no right to govern the state of Pakistan. Never, I believe has a coup been opposed this vehemently in such a short time in Pakistan. Pakistanis have the reputation of being a dead nation, because it is hardly ever that we stand up for our rights. Hopefully this time we will.