Muted protest to power grab in Pakistan

Hopes of democratic progress in Pakistan were dashed last week when President Pervez Musharraf—who is also the leader of the country’s military—suspended the country’s constitution and declared a state of emergency. The country has faced significant turmoil in the last month following the return of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who had been exiled in Dubai but had pledged to run in the election slated for this January.

The government has suspended all privately run television channels and cut telephone lines in the capital city of Islamabad. The Supreme Court justices—who had been set to make a decision as to the legitimacy of Musharraf’s Oct. 6 presidential election win—were made to swear a new oath to the president, while the chief justice was replaced by a someone faithful to Musharraf.

The volatile situation in Pakistan is frightening. With the elections set for January and the candidacy of pro-democracy Bhutto, the country had been heading down a road that would have led to expanded civil rights and perhaps abolished the rigid militaristic regime Musharraf instated after taking power in a coup eight years ago.

Although Pakistan’s future is now uncertain, the blatant abrogation of rights couldn’t be more clear. Fundamental freedoms such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press have not just been violated—they have been discarded entirely.

Equally frightening is the reaction from Western governments. George W. Bush has counted Pakistan as one of the U.S.’s allies in the “war on terror,” but he must have found himself in hot water when Musharraf stripped his citizens of civil rights and began tear-gassing and detaining hundreds of protesting lawyers. The White House’s response was initially muted and its rhetoric seemed to prioritize the war on terror over the preservation of rights and freedoms. Bush seems unashamedly ready to stand by Musharraf’s police state rather than risk losing that strategic partnership.

Musharraf’s actions should also make us wary of our own government’s abrogation of rights in the name of fighting terror and maintaining security.

Either way, it’s imperative Canada as a country condemns Musharraf’s naked power grab and his systematic disregard for democratic values in order to uphold human rights and freedoms in Pakistan and elsewhere.

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