Call to Pakistan
The phone rang. My friend from Buffalo: "Congratulations, Musharraf has imposed a state of emergency in Pakistan." Not much of a political analyst, this friend of mine. 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 and dance and Quranic recitations as usual.
My friend was genuinely more concerned about the Pakistani cricket team's tour to India. Will or will not Pakistan beat India at the colonial game that has become our national sport? We have come to take such joy and pride in cricket match victories and we plunge into a deep depression over the team's losses. This fact is more disturbing than the match-fixing or cheating - the only two reasons the Pakistani team ever loses. Believe it or not, cricket is not what I was thinking about at the time. I was thinking about how the already unstable state of affairs in "the land of the pure," was about to change again.
I learned exactly how in the next few hours. I called my mother in Lahore to confirm that the news was true. Not unbelievable, but a little unexpected, don't you think? Benazir Bhutto was back to resume power. For all we knew, Musharraf and Bhutto had decided the result of the upcoming election and were just staging the necessary drama right on schedule. Oh, but what to do about the 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 Chaudhry think he is, teaching Musharraf the law? Mr. President makes the law, so what if he was never voted into office. The judges rebel, Musharraf is upset, so he imposes an emergency. This is not the first time a General has imposed an emergency in Pakistan. This time, however, there is resistance.
My mother tells me she is on her way to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to talk about the new turn of events. They plan to protest in the near future but more on that later. She is late.
I call her that night, but the phone rings and rings. No response. In the meantime, I am hearing news of arrests. Images of lawyers being dragged, beaten, tear-gassed in the streets of Pakistan give me heartache and a throbbing head. The only source of information coming from Pakistan at this time of high anxiety is from online, and it is by no means reassuring. I watch a video. A political activist is dragged away from his wife. "Leave him," she shrieks, as the police grabbed him by his arms. "Give me a minute," he protests, "she is pregnant." Reuters captures the couple, tight in embrace, as their world falls 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. Ironic? Senior journalists, human rights activists, members of civil society organizations were kept behind bars for three days, moved from jails to house arrest to other jails, and the courthouse in between. Ironic? My mother was instructed to sign a letter begging for forgiveness, which she refused to do. While their families held candlelight vigils outside, the rebels shouted anti-Musharraf slogans and sang revolutionary songs.
They were released, but more people were arrested. More protests, more people 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.
The lawyers' and students' protests going on in the country right now are unprecedented in the history of Pakistan. 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.