Copyrighted material


by Viji Sundaram

Deadly Pakistan Riots Blamed on Musharraf

(PNS) -- As the political turmoil in Pakistan worsens, and the call for President Pervez Musharraf to resign both as head of the army and leader of the nation grows louder, some South Asian experts in the United States feel that even if that were to happen, peace in the nation will not come quickly.

"Shedding his uniform will not end the political problems, it will only enhance it," asserted Pakistan-born Agha Saeed, political science and social studies professor at Cal State University East Bay and the national chairman of the American Muslim Alliance.

In fact, opined Sanjoy Banerjee, professor of international relations at San Francisco State University, "there may not be peace if Musharraf stays in power, but there'll be less peace if he steps down."

The situation in Pakistan is so grim that Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has been threatening to impose emergency rule.

The general's authority has been severely tested over the past week, following urban rioting in parts of Pakistan, including in the financial hub of Karachi where 39 people died over the May 12 weekend.

Another burst of violence occurred May 17, when a suicide bomber detonated his charge inside a crowded restaurant in Peshawar, a town bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistan American Democratic Forum, a grassroots organization, has demanded a judicial inquiry into the May 12 massacre that claimed 39 lives. It is speculated that the May 17 blast was aimed at warning Musharraf not to cooperate with the United States on counter-terrorism.

"The Pathans (an ethnic group that comprises a quarter of Pakistan's army, the other three-quarter being largely Punjabis) are especially angry with him because he's allowing the Americans to fight the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistan border," Banerjee said. Until 2002, the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents are known to currently operate along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Musharraf is considered an important U.S. ally against both al-Qaeda and the Taliban since the September 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that triggered the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

Although the current spate of violence between government supporters and opposition parties was set off last week by the arrival of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in Karachi, tensions have been building between the two since Chaudhry was suspended by Musharraf in March for alleged abuse of power -- a charge Chaudhry denies.

Pakistan is to hold elections in November this year, and Chaudhry was to hear cases that have a direct bearing on Musharraf's ability to serve as president of the country, while also being head of the army. Saeed said Musharraf "is clearly in violation of Article 43 of the constitution" that bars a person from simultaneously holding the two posts.

"Musharraf clearly believes he is above the law," Banerjee said.

The Pakistan American National Alliance (PANA), an umbrella organization of the Pakistani diaspora, issued on April 20 a "Contract with the People of Pakistan," demanding, among other things, a ban on appointing a member of the armed force to a civil post. PANA also demanded that Musharraf's overthrowing of an elected government be declared a crime under Pakistan's constitution.

Chaudhry has become a symbol for Pakistanis who believe Musharraf is making a mockery of democracy.

"Musharraf does not consider himself bound by its laws," Banerjee said.

Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, establishing a military dictatorship. For the greater part of its 60 years, Pakistan has been under military rule.

Over the years, leaders of Pakistan, starting from Zia-ul-Haq, have introduced amendments to the original 1973 constitution, changing the control of power from the president to the prime minister and vice versa. When Musharraf seized power from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999, he used a constitutional amendment to -- once again -- put more power into the president's hand and diminished the authority of the prime minister.

Musharraf is also being blamed for creating divisions in the ranks of the military by gifting his senior officers with land, creating resentment among the lower ranks. "By doing that, he has effectively paralyzed the army," Banerjee said. "The Jihadis now have less to fear from the army."

Banerjee worries about what might happen if Musharraf is removed from power by the Islamic militants or Jihadis, whom the military once nurtured because of their willingness to go on suicidal missions in the disputed territory of Kashmir. In 2003, both India and Pakistan signed an agreement to hold their fire. Since then, Musharraf began to view the empowered Jihadis as a threat.

"If the Jihadis seize power from Musharraf, they will have control of the 30 to 50 nuclear bombs Pakistan now has," Banerjee said, noting that the situation could then turn deadly because "Osama Bin Laden will have access to those bombs."

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Albion Monitor   May 23, 2007   (

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