Musharraf shows dictators how it’s done

Musharraf shows dictators how it’s done

Thank you, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Your imposition of emergency law Saturday might have earned you widespread condemnation for what the Pakistani media called your “second coup” — your first being in 1999 — but you deserve credit for so starkly showing your Western allies the perils of supporting dictators.

I hear your friends in the Bush administration are shocked. I”m shocked that they”re shocked.

For years, Pakistan has been home for much that ails the Muslim world — coups, dictatorship, militancy and corruption. You share so much with fellow Muslim dictators. For example, my country”s president for the last 26 years, Hosni Mubarak, is also a military man.

You have brilliantly used the Islamist boogeyman. That is a trick your fellow Muslim dictators also have perfected, presenting themselves as the only sane choice in countries beset by Islamist lunatics. Mubarak might point to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas can point to Hamas, but who can beat having Osama bin Laden allegedly hiding somewhere in his country? Or those Taliban and Al Qaeda foot soldiers crisscrossing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border?

You claim that your emergency law is aimed at fighting these suicidal maniacs and their Pakistani supporters. But Pakistanis know the real target of your clampdown is the country”s Supreme Court and its brave judges who have steadfastly opposed you.

That”s another thing you share with your fellow Muslim dictators: an allergy to an independent judiciary, which in many Muslim countries constitutes the most potent secular opposition. Mubarak recognized last year the danger of judges who dared demand independence. He had them beaten and arrested and had their supporters jailed, answering any questions about how “serious” he was about reform and democracy.

Here”s where your duplicity became apparent: You gave free rein to those same Islamists you warned the West about because they were a foil to the judges and other liberals who opposed you. Egypt”s late President Anwar Sadat perfected that one when he used the Muslim Brotherhood against leftists and socialists. His assassination by radical army officers was an example of the dangers of that game. You too have been the object of assassination attempts.

Yours has been an especially dangerous balancing act because your country”s powerful intelligence services are suspected of including Taliban supporters in their ranks.

It all got too close for comfort when radicals openly challenged you in the heart of your capital, Islamabad. They established a Taliban-style compound that taught its students the virtues of vigilantism and suicide bombings. A months-long standoff at the Red Mosque compound was capped by a bloody battle in July. More than 100 people, including women and children, died.

That violent denouement was aimed both at closing that radical stronghold and to distract from the brewing crisis with the Supreme Court.

You had suspended the chief justice of the Supreme Court because you worried that he didn”t support the constitutional changes that would allow your reelection. But the Supreme Court reinstated him in July. And if there were ever any doubt as to whom the Pakistani people supported — the Islamists or the judge — you can”t have forgotten the thousands who joined protests against the judge”s firing and yet who ignored radical calls for an “Islamic revolution.”

Like Muslim dictators in Egypt, Morocco and Jordan, you have participated in other ways in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, ways that have brought your human rights record into further disrepute. Your threats against media criticism are also familiar. You imposed sweeping curbs that ban any news coverage “that defames, and brings into ridicule or disrepute the head of state” on pain of up to three years in jail. In my country, journalists also go to jail if they “insult” the president.

And what of the Pakistani opposition? Corrupt and in disarray, much like their counterparts in other Muslim countries. You granted amnesty to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on corruption charges. The U.S. administration had forced her on you in a desperate attempt to prevent exactly what you did Saturday.

And so you have taken Pakistan hostage, as the president of the Supreme Court Bar Assn. charged before you had him arrested. But your emergency law will not silence the liberals in Pakistan. Instead, you may have provided Exhibit A for the risks of Western support for dictators. But your domestic opponents knew that long ago.

Mona Eltahawy is a New York-based journalist and commentator and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues.