Friday, November 9, 2007

State of Emergency in Pakistan, But Not in the United States.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf has declared a state of emergency in Pakistan, and in the White House, Bush and Cheney may be, in some part, a little envious. Musharraf made the cogent point that other branches of the political system (in Pakistan's case, the judiciary and the parties) were "interfering" with the ability of the government -- ie. him, Musharraf -- to function. Its cogent because that's exactly what independent branches or entities are supposed to do. In the US its called checks and balances, which a small but important authoritarian current in the US seems to want to start phasing out.

But any White House envy must be only partial, heavily tempered by condescension, since under the US's far more subtle system, crude Musharraf-like steps are rarely needed.

Musharraf has arrested dozens of established human rights activists, intellectuals, and civil-society campaigners. How many such figures in the US today could (or would) so threaten the rulers that Bush or Cheney would even know their names, let alone think about arresting them? In the US, such figures are lucky to be invited on corporate cable TV (MSNBC, CNN, or Fox) to be sometimes shouted-at by the interviewers, or to be invited in for micro policy-change negotiations by State Department or Pentagon people who set policy on the killing of foreigners. (The new edition of the US Army/ Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, overseen by now-Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus, carries an Introduction by Sarah Sewall, the director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy).

But the deeper twist to the Musharraf move, is that below the middle-class and activist level, the impact may be barely perceptible in the daily life of Pakistan's poor.

The Karachi newspaper Dawn dramatically front-page headlined it "Musharraf's Second Coup." But it reminded me of a discussion two days before on the Indonesian web forum Indonesia News Blog (, which reported that the U.S. academic, Alfred C. Stepan (author of "Rethinking Military Politics" [Princeton, 1988], and director of Columbia University's Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration and Religion) had come to Indonesia, and standing before Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, lavishly praised the hated TNI -- the Indonesian armed forces --, reassuring Indonesians that there was little chance that they would stage a military coup. To this, one reader, going by the name Gravatar Arema, posted -- in English -- the dry response: " Uhm, the military are already in power… so why they need a coup d’etat?"