Emergency: Pakistan better than India
|Activists of civil society carry flowers to offer to deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in Islamabad. AP
"Effective dissent was smothered, followed by a general erosion of democratic values. High-handed and arbitrary actions were carried out with impunity. The nation was initially in a state of shock and then of stupor, unable to realise the directions and full implications of the actions of the government and its functionaries."
No, this is not about the emergency in Pakistan. This para is from the Shah Commission report on the emergency in India some 30 years ago. The difference between the two is that a military dictator, President General Pervez Musharraf, imposed the emergency and suspended the fundamental rights in Pakistan while an elected Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, did so in India.
Both could not brook independence of the judiciary: Musharraf acted before the judgment on his re-election as President when he was a serving soldier and Mrs. Gandhi after the judgment that unseated her for a poll crime. Yet, the biggest difference is that people in Pakistan have come out in streets and demonstrated, thousands of them. Touchingly, the citizens of Islamabad gathered to celebrate Diwali in solidarity with Justice Rana Bhagwandas.
In India, fear gripped people and they stayed indoors. Mrs. Gandhi said that not even a dog had barked. True, very few defied her rule in bazaars. Still she detained one lakh people without trial.
The press has been gagged in Pakistan. So was the case in India. But journalists have protested in Pakistan and offered themselves for arrest. Journalists in India, as L.K. Advani said after the emergency, were asked to bend, but they began to crawl. Nearly all of them fell in line.
The judiciary in Pakistan has shown guts. The majority of judges in the Supreme Court and High Courts have not taken the new oath which Musharraf dictated. Deposed Chief Justice Mohammad Iftikhar Chaudhry has urged lawyers after his house arrest to lead the movement against the military government. Judges in India caved in like journalists. The Supreme Court upheld the imposition of the emergency. Only one judge, H.R. Khanna, gave a dissenting verdict and was superseded when his turn to be the Chief Justice came.
Lawyers behaved as miserably as the judiciary. None even attempted to move a resolution at the bar council or any other place to condemn the emergency. Most of them in the country became advocates of the emergency. In comparison, lawyers are leading the protest marches even in small towns of Pakistan. More than 2000 have been detained. Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the bar council, who has challenged Musharraf's election, has been sent to solitary confinement.
Nonetheless, in India there was confidence that whenever elections were held, the perpetrators of the emergency would be punished. It happened that way. Even Mrs. Indira Gandhi was defeated at the polls.
Pakistan would have elections before January 9 as Musharraf has assured. But there is no prospect of the polls being free and fair. The last time he rigged elections in such a way that he brought in religious parties to lessen the space for the liberals. This time he would see to it that his loyal party, the Muslim League (Qaid), gets a near-majority in the National Assembly. Justifiably, all the parties have demanded that he must step down for a free and fair election to be held.
Benazir Bhutto who had reportedly struck a deal with Musharraf has also said that he must go. The amendments to the Army Act which Musharraf has made are alarming. They give wide powers to the military courts. Civilians can also be tried for a number of offences, including their expression of views. Antiquated laws that had lost their teeth through judicial reviews have been now resurrected to give military courts powers to punish people under them.
Trials will not be open to public hearings; lawyers will only be allowed to represent the accused in the capacity of a friend. Investigation will be carried out by the military personnel and ordinary rules of evidence will not apply.
The new amendments fully support the contention that Musharraf has not declared the emergency but imposed marital law and that it has pointedly targeted a vocal civil society.
General Zia-ul Haq's draconian laws have also been activated and offences under them will be tried under the Army Act. In 1984, Zia made amendments to the Penal Code making expressions of "disaffection" against the government and those "prejudicial" to Pakistan punishable. Those accused of expressions or acts that are "prejudicial" or offensive towards the government will now be tried by military courts.
The Attorney General of Pakistan has justified these amendments on the grounds that these were essential for combating terrorism and that similar laws exist in Britain and the US. First, two wrongs will never make a right. Secondly, Britain and the US have an independent judiciary that has also struck down provisions of the Patriot Act.
Military courts in Britain or the US do not try their citizens. Nor have journalists, lawyers and activists in those countries been charged with terrorism or treason. But in Pakistan police have filed reports accusing several lawyers and human rights activists of terrorism.
Similarly, no judge of the superior courts is under house arrest in those countries. Musharraf's main strength is America which has given him $10 billion in the last five years to fight against the militants.
Musharraf is reportedly keeping his top commanders happy by making them afford a luxurious life. Washington is not bothered how he rules or what he does with the money so long as he is fighting the militants. Yet a substantial section of the intelligentsia and media hands suspects him for encouraging the militants so that he is looked upon as the only dependable person to fight militancy.
The more the militants are active - they have now captured most of Swat valley, the northern part of Waziristan in Pakistan - the more dependent becomes the West on him.
In any case, Washington has seldom bothered about democracy abroad. Any person, however dictatorial, is acceptable to it if he can deliver the goods. It is a long haul for democracy to cover in Pakistan. Since its creation 60 years ago, it has been under one military ruler or the other for more than four decades.
But then the people in India too felt during the emergency that it was an endless tunnel. The alienation of the people went on building and they ousted the Congress rule, lock, stock and barrel when elections were held.
The apathy in Pakistan towards the fauj is strong. Once Musharraf takes off his uniform, which he would because of the undertaking he has given to the Supreme Court, nobody can predict what would happen. The process may begin when the notification of Musharraf's election is cleared by the Supreme Court.
(The writer is a veteran Indian journalist and diplomat. He was also a one-time Rajya Sabha member)