M A I N   N E W S

Insecurities and illusions of dictators
By H. K. Dua

With one cruel stroke Pervez Musharraf has snuffed out what could have marked the birth of democracy in Pakistan. The General, who came to power eight years ago in a coup, has staged another to extend his regime, thus pushing Pakistan back in time by several years.

He was clearly facing an adverse verdict from the Supreme Court which might not have validated his "election" as President in uniform. He has even sacked the Supreme Court and tried to replace it with a bunch of obliging and willing judges.

The lawyers came to the street over six months ago when the General threw all norms to the winds and sacked the Chief Justice. Their strike turned into a massive protest by a suppressed civil society, leaving little choice for the President in uniform, but to restore to the court its Chief Justice. Apparently, this was a tactical retreat masking his plans to assume absolute power by means familiar to ambitious generals who want to be rulers.

The jackboots are again stamping on the streets in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi; the lawyers are being pushed into jail vans, judges kept under what is being described as "protective custody", and human rights fighters--labelled saboteurs of law and order-are being sent to prisons in droves by the General's men.

Lest the 150 million people that make Pakistan and the world should come to know the enormity of the emergency, the Press has been placed under choking restrictions and it would take time for it to recover whatever freedom the brave soldiers of pen and mike had come to exercise. In short, the peoples' Right to Know is being brazenly denied.

The main "gainer" in the outrageously authoritarian exercise is the beleaguered General, who like most dictators is projecting the questionable thesis that without him in the saddle, there would be chaos in Pakistan. In a way, he is now invoking for himself the "Doctrine of Necessity" which a then supine Supreme Court used some years ago to justify General Zia-ul-Haq's usurpation of power.

The other ostensible "gainer" of Musharraf's emergency is none else than Ms Benazir Bhutto who has lately been supping with the General with the sole purpose of becoming Prime Minister once again, even if the men in uniform were to breathe down her neck.

She also feared the now sacked Supreme Court which might have undone the reconciliation order which the General came out with only ten days ago forgiving her sins concerning accumulation of wealth. Apparently, she knew about the General's plans to place Pakistan under emergency before she left for Dubai a week ago.

While the General and the former Prime Minister might think they stand to gain from the emergency, who have really lost are none other than the people of Pakistan.

With the media now gagged, the people in Pakistan cannot know all what is going on in their own country. In such a situation, rumours are bound to flourish.

No wonder, across Pakistan the word spread yesterday that a well-placed general tried to stage a coup against Pervez Musharraf. A coup-in-coup situation is not uncommon in dictatorial regimes and often upstarts do to the ruling general what he might have done to others while grabbing power. That later in the day General Musharraf himself chose to deny the rumour describing it as "a joke" shows potentialities inbuilt in the situation in flux.

Pakistan's continuing crisis has further deepened and is fraught with greater dangers.

The General might have assumed absolute power, but essentially all dictators suffer from suppressed insecurities. This pushes them into bouts of blinding rage, leading to greater use of forces on all possible sources of dissent and opposition.

Suppressed dissent in turn leads to agitations and protests--violent or otherwise-and more oppression. This further causes ruler- versus- people confrontation.

Dictators also suffer from two major illusions. One is that they are indispensable; the other is that they will remain in power for ever. On both counts, they generally turn out to be wrong.

If only they knew!



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