How have the recent events affected the prospects of free and fair election in Pakistan? A PILDAT team led by its Executive Director Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, has analysed the recent developments in the perspective of the coming elections.


Please make no mistake about it. Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s proclamation of “State of Emergency” on November 3, 2007 is nothing but a naked Martial Law. Suspension of Constitution of Pakistan is the ultimate violation of the Rule of Law and these actions have destroyed whatever little possibility of holding Free and Fair Election existed in Pakistan. The key target of Gen. Musharraf’s “Saturday afternoon Massacre” is the Judiciary, which for the first time had started to assert its independence. Unlawful removal of such a large number of senior judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts is simply unacceptable in any civilised society. Sensing the impending crisis, PILDAT and members of its Dialogue Group on Civil-Military Relations had warned, during a public seminar in Islamabad on November 1, 2007, of serious consequences for the stability and integrity of the country if another military intervention was attempted. The seminar was addressed by prominent leaders of public opinion and six former generals of the Pakistan Army. Unfortunately all pleas for restraint went unheeded.

The latest actions by General Pervez Musharraf are one of deadliest blow to democratisation efforts in Pakistan. The utter disrespect for the rule of law demonstrated by the government is expected to further strengthen the logic of power in the country and provide new sympathisers to violent extremist groups trying to take law in their own hands in various parts of the country such as Swat at present and Red Mosque Seminary in Islamabad just a few months ago. The trampling of the basic law of the land at the hands of the Chief of Army Staff, under the guise of emergency, is a set back to the campaign against extremists and terrorists. General Musharraf’s actions and the brute use of force on the peaceful protesters across Pakistan following the “Martial Law” has made the government the greatest violator of law and thus has robbed it of any moral authority to act against extremists and violators of the law.


Whereas the judiciary is the key-target of these illegal and unconstitutional actions of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, he seems to have moved to take care of another irritant, the electronic media in particular and print media in general, through the imposition of martial law in the garb of emergency. A couple of hours ahead of the imposition of emergency in Pakistan, the independent news channels were shut down. With the exception of state-run Pakistan Television, which is the mouthpiece of government, cable TV consumers in Pakistan, a majority of the population as satellite dish users are almost non-existent in the country, have not been able to obtain news from an independent news channel including international news channels such as BBC and CNN etc., since the afternoon of November 3, 2007. The government and its Ministry of Information maintain that until a “Code of Conduct” is agreed with the independent news media, the electronic channels will remain off-air. Hours after independent news channels were taken off air on November 3, Gen. Pervez Musharraf promulgated two separate ordinances to impose curbs on print and electronic media. Under these ordinances which amend the Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance, 2002, and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, 2002, the print and electronic media have been barred from printing and broadcasting “anything which defames or brings into ridicule the head of state, or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organ of the state.” Non-compliance of the new curbs is subject to discontinuation of newspaper publication for up to 30 days, and in case of television channels up to three years of jail and Rs10 million fine or both will be imposed on the broadcast media licensee or its representative and their equipment and premises will be forfeited.

It is largely believed that the government’s black-out of independent news media has been managed so as to curtail public reaction against the regime likely to spill on the streets in the wake of news of judiciary and lawyers resisting the government’s imposition of emergency. It is hard to imagine how free and fair election can even be attempted under this state of affairs.


The country stands clearly divided between ‘Collaborators’ of the regime and those struggling for the Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law, who enjoy the sympathies of the public at large against Gen. Musharraf as suggested by recent public opinion polls (over 70% of people wanted Gen. Musharraf to resign from the post of Chief of Army Staff as of October 2007). The collaborators comprise the current establishment – pitted against the rest of the people of the country. The divisions caused by the emergency and the use of force against the judges, lawyers and ordinary citizens are expected to further polarise the society and mar any chances of early reconciliation. It seems that the Pakistani society may never be the same again.


Although this struggle is basically the struggle of the people of Pakistan and it is their actions and conduct which will largely determine the outcome of this struggle, the positions taken by the foreign governments and international organisations working for democracy and human rights across the globe will probably also remain deeply engraved on the public conscious and memory for a very long time. While many governments and almost all international human rights organisations clearly and unequivocally condemned the proclamation of so-called emergency and demanded immediate reversal of these steps, some governments who claim to support democratisation efforts in Pakistan, have shown regrettable ambivalence at this defining moment for the democracy and rule of law in Pakistan. Any demand for “free and fair election in Pakistan” is meaningless without the demand for immediate restoration of the Constitution and reinstatement of all those judges who the government claims to have removed including Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the lawful Chief Justice of Pakistan. The British Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has set a good example by demanding the complete reversal of the ‘proclamation of emergency’ and its consequences.


Only time will determine the citizens and civil society’s capacity for persevering their resistance and struggle against the martial law, although at the current time, the majority seems to be very angry and bitter with sentiments seething against the actions of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The leadership expected from the judiciary and lawyers will mainly set the course for a continued resistance. This leadership has already been witnessed through the heroic defiance by the judges of the Supreme and High Courts who refused to take oath on the so-called “Provisional Constitutional Order – PCO” and declared the PCO illegal. The peaceful protest by the lawyers and other citizens in the face of brute state force indicate strong association of conscious citizenry to the rule of law. The courage, professionalism and conviction demonstrated by the non-government media – both print and electronic – in the face of suppression of independent media by the government is another source of optimism in the country’s struggle for the rule of law.


Most of the crises being faced by Pakistan today including the latest one are essentially the crises of the rule of law. It seems that the struggle for the establishment and preservation of the rule of law in the country will assume the central stage now. The battle lines have already been drawn.

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[1] Recent Public Opinion Polls by International Republican Institute (IRI) and the Gallup, Pakistan as of September and late October 2007

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