When Pervez Musharraf took to
He's learning something, that's for sure. Musharraf may not
ever win any awards for his commitment to political pluralism, but the language
his regime has used to justify its crackdown suggests that the general is a
keen student of democracy’s rhetoric. After a fashion, at least. Musharraf's state-of-emergency
rollout looks to an American audience like a self-conscious linguistic homage
to the one democracy advocate who matters to the Pakistani military: George W.
Bush. Rather than hewing to the script of the ham-fisted dictator, the speech
might as well have come from the Republican National Committee’s speechwriting
Have Musharraf’s minions been rummaging through the trash cans at the Pennsylvania Avenue Starbucks in search of rhetorical inspiration? Consider one particular shared pet peeve: “Judicial activism.” Musharraf, who declared his state of emergency in advance of a Supreme Court decision about whether he could legally win another presidential term, repeatedly lashed out at the courts, using a term freighted with American political history. Was he accusing his country’s judiciary of legislating from the bench on divisive social issues, as our president liked to do back when he was a candidate? Well, no: Musharraf was accusing judges of getting in the way of what he wanted to do. Which also has a sort of familiar ring to it.
Ditto the evocation of the 16th president of the
The general also borrowed a plea from the Bushies: “Give us
time.” In so doing, Musharraf appeared quite familiar with his erstwhile
American patron’s strategy for defending his efforts in
Musharraf this week also hasn’t been afraid to hide behind
the flag. “Whatever I do is for
Finally, there’s the ultimate justification for Musharraf’s
crackdown: terrorism. “There is visible ascendancy in the activities of
extremists and incidents of terrorist attacks,” his emergency order declared.
“Some members of the judiciary are working at cross purposes with the executive
and legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism, thereby weakening
the Government and the nation’s resolve and diluting the efficacy of its
actions to control this menace,” it added. After eight years in power, the
general has learned to use the terrorism card not only to wring billions in aid
Given the language of Musharraf’s declaration, the general might be forgiven for being a bit crestfallen at the cool public reception that greeted his move in Washington. Of course, that might have to do with some of the visuals the crackdown has generated. Those same security forces that are supposed to be fighting Islamist terrorism were busily hauling off human-rights activists, beardless Punjabi attorneys, and other members of the country’s secular elite. Meanwhile, a rebellious radical cleric appeared to have taken over another village in the mountainous Swat region.
The juxtaposition highlights another, perhaps less intentional, similarity between the general and his American patron: ineptitude. Just as Bush evokes a terrorist threat while doing things like shifting resources away from Afghanistan or packing FEMA with political cronies, so has Musharraf played Washington like a sitar by talking up the need to reform madrassas and bring law and order to the tribal areas while actually spending much of his $7 billion in U.S. assistance on weapons best used in a conventional war with India.
The jig may well be up for Musharraf, with or without a crackdown. Before his announcement, the general's popularity at home was estimated at 21 percent--below even Bush’s domestic approval rating. The state of emergency likely won’t help. But at least he’s flailing about while using the strident language of good against evil, order against disorder, and curses on all the lawyers. Yes, indeed, he has learned, and he is doing well.
By Michael Currie Schaffer