Saturday, November 3, 2007

Emergency in Pakistan: A Setback for Democracy

While the imposition of emergency rule by Gen Musharraf is not unexpected, it is clearly a setback for democracy in Pakistan. Once again, we are faced with an unfortunate situation but I hope this time it's only a temporary setback in our journey toward democracy. While Musharraf is largely to blame for this situation, the responsibility for it must be shared by our incompetent and corrupt politicians, an unwise and unnecessarily aggressive judiciary and the radical religious element bent upon imposing its will through violence. While we watch the events unfold, let us act rationally and hope and pray that good sense will prevail in Pakistan to allow an early return to a peaceful and progressive democratic rule in the country we all love. Amen.


Anonymous said...

unnecessarily aggressive judiciary ???? interesting choice of words... I thought we finally had someone who wanted to take action rather than jsut sitting around and letting things go by.. how is that a bad thing.... ????

Unknown said...

I am amazed that how people have so volatile memory like a gold fish, how soon they forgot that this reawakening of "JUST JUSTICE" is nothing but a stunt that is played by the same crooks who are responsible for the pathetic unjust justice system we have right now. The same Chief Justice "who wants to take some action" was among the same who used to argue for chartered chopper flights & presidents protocol. They are the same people who validated not once but many times the Military Rulers when ever they got a good deal. The point I am trying to make here is, collectively we are an extremely emotional nation, and we trust any one who says or promises or in better words can sell the dreams in convincing way. Mark my words that the same folks who are claiming to be the nice ones now will get back to their business as soon as they get the right price. I have seen it, heard it so many times that every thing seems like a circus to me......but ironically there is no fun watching that kinda circus!!!

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Washington Post story on section 144 calling it a "catch-all" law:

A gathering of young people in a hookah bar, an annual kite-flying festival heralding the arrival of spring, and an outbreak of deadly sectarian violence. These three scenarios share an unlikely nexus: They have all been declared subject to a catch-all law that allows Pakistani authorities to restore “public order.”

Headlines saying “Section 144 Imposed” turn up frequently in the local press, referencing the part of Pakistan’s Code of Criminal Procedure that allows the government to act immediately to halt any activity that poses a threat to health, safety or public order.

Last week, Section 144 was imposed when sectarian violence broke out between majority Sunni and minority Shia Muslims in Gilgit in the north of the country after an attacker lobbed a hand grenade and then opened fire on a group of protesters. Shia-Sunni tensions have been running high in the Gilgit-Baltistan region since February, when Sunni gunmen ambushed a Gilgit-bound bus, ordered 18 Shia passengers to get off and shot them dead by the side of the road.

But the law has also been used in less obvious circumstances. The Supreme Court cited Section 144 when it banned kite flying after multiple reported injuries and deaths caused by the razor-sharp metal strings favored by kite enthusiasts. Metal strings are coated with chemicals and then covered by shards of glass to get an edge in kite-flying competitions. But they also pose a serious risk of injury to spectators and motorists.

Beginning April 1 in Karachi, Section 144 is being imposed as part of a government crackdown on the smoking of hookah pipes, a trend that has become increasingly popular with young people in the region. Full color advertisements in local newspapers featuring photographs of young men and women blowing sinister clouds of deadly tobacco smoke warn that violators of the no-smoking order risk “six months vigorous imprisonment.” The ads urge citizens to call the listed telephone numbers immediately to inform authorities if they see hookahs being used in hotels or restaurants.

The section can even be invoked in efforts to limit political activities: A petitioner in a court case next week in Lahore is asking a judge to rule that a march by the country’s opposition party violated Section 144.

The regulation is a holdover from the days of colonial rule when the British implemented a version of the law in India to inhibit public gatherings among Indian inhabitants. The law has since found its way into the penal code of Pakistan and its reach has expanded to include not only public assembly but also other activities.

Pakistani international law expert Ahmar Bilal Soofi said Section 144 is correctly used when there is imminent danger or apprehension of civil unrest. “People have the right to protest and have peaceful assembly, but the moment the protest in no longer peaceful or there is damage to property, [the use of the law] could become reasonable.”

But the law can also be applied inappropriately, he added — as in the context of kite flying. The Supreme Court recently lifted the kite-flying ban, at least partially, to allow revelers to fly kites during the springtime festival of Basant — but only if they do not use the hazardous glass-coated twines.

Not all invocations of Section 144 conform to the constitution, according to Soofi.

“It makes sense to use it to restore a law and order situation. But I think it can also be used in ways it was not meant to be used,” he said. “Whether or not it is used appropriately is a question of fact"