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Martial Law by Another Name in Pakistan

JURIST Guest Columnist Moeen Cheema, professor of Law & Policy at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Lahore, Pakistan, says that President Pervez Musharaff's declaration of emergency rule is in effect martial law, imposed to crack down on a dissenting judiciary that was about to rule against Musharraf in a critical election case...

According to media reports, a nationwide emergency has been imposed here in Pakistan. All independent media channels have been forcibly taken off the air. Paramilitary forces have surrounded the Supreme Court building in the capital. However, this is only an emergency in name: in reality it is yet another martial law proclamation.

Under the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, the regime may impose an emergency if the country is facing external aggression or if there is serious internal turmoil. The Constitution has been placed in abeyance for the second time by General Pervez Musharraf. A Provisional Constitutional Order has been proclaimed, as was the case in 1999 when the military regime took over. The proclamation of emergency has been issued by the general in his capacity as the chief of the armed forces and not as the President of Pakistan.


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The proclamation of emergency states that the regime has taken this action to curb a judiciary which has stepped out of line; has encroached upon the domains of the executive and the legislature; and is hampering the regime’s efforts at curbing extremism.

The last claim is meant specifically for the regime’s backers and potential detractors in Washington. The truth, evident to the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis is that this action was motivated by the fears that the Supreme Court may decide to invalidate General Musharraf’s re-election as President. The case was scheduled to be decided by next Tuesday.

According to the reports, eight-member bench of the Supreme Court has already declared the PCO and the proclamation of emergency to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court and High Court judges are being asked to take a new oath under the PCO. The Chief Justice and a majority of Supreme Court and High Court judges have not been invited to take the oath, meaning thereby that the Chief Justice of Pakistan has been sacked for the second time this year.

While the regime shall attempt to crack down on the media and protests in Pakistan at home over the coming days, internationally it will forward the claim that the Supreme Court’s activism was threatening to destabilize the regime and hence undermining American interests in the War on Terror. The regime shall also attempt to present the softer face of an emergency. It must be realized that political leaders and activist lawyers are already being arrested all over the country. Fundamental freedoms have been suspended and the rights of the protesters shall in all likelihood be viciously trampled upon.

In short, martial law by another name is just as brutal!

Moeen Cheema is an Assistant Professor of Law & Policy at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Lahore, Pakistan

November 03, 2007

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