Here in Pakistan, where I live, the general who runs things, Musharraf, declared a state of emergency yesterday. He sacked the head of the Supreme Court, suspended the Constitution, suspended a whole slew of local private TV channels, and cut phone lines to & from Islamabad. The emergency grants him powers to do pretty much whatever he wants; for example, he can have anyone arrested without charge, and held indefinitely--just like his friends the Americans do in Guantanamo. Opposition politicians like Imran Khan are under house arrest; so is Asma Jehangir, the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Others, like Nawaz Sharif, are in forced exile.
This will probably not affect me a great deal. There may be a curfew imposed, or some other inconvenience. But I'm unlikely to be stopped by police, or arrested, or deported.
How it will affect the country at large is another question. There is plenty of alienation among the population as whole, mainly due to three things: economic policy, military action the northwest, and most of all, American hegemony.
The economy is booming--if you're lucky. After 9/11, a lot of expat money came flooding back into the country, and a lot of development and investment came along with it. People who already had money found themselves in a position to make a lot more. But along with this came outrageous inflation. My rent has multiplied in the past eight years; my electric bill has risen by 400% since 2001. Uzee and I feel the squeeze but we're not desperate; but the huge proportion of the country living on $1-$2 dollars per day is getting desperate. Last month, tomatoes hit $2.50 a kilo; they normally sell for about 35 cents. Onions, carrots, sugar, all the basic staples have shot up. This may not sound like a lot to you, but for a guy who earns a buck or two a day to feed his whole family, it's a big bloody fookin' deal. Meanwhile, imported cars are getting bigger and bigger for the few super-rich who are getting super-richer: a Mercedes dealership has opened in Lahore (!) for the first time, and I actually saw a snazzy little Jaguar a few streets from my house. So there's a lot of anxiety on the part of the common citizen, and a growing amount of resentment as well.
The second part of the dissatisfaction stems from the government's civil war in the northwest. Please understand, I'm no fan of the Taliban, I think they're wackos who need to be stopped. Nothing would make me sadder than to see a Taliban-style regime in this country. BUT, I don't think the best way to quell "militancy" is by indiscriminate military action. The US tried that in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Vietnam. It has failed in all three arenas. Not surprisingly, when people are faced with two unpalatable options, they will choose the less immediately unpalatable. So when the US (or the Pakistan Air Force) is dropping bombs on their villages, and the Taliban is saying, "Help us fight them," many people will think something like: "Well, the Taliban are scary, but at least they're not trying to murder my family." As a result, militancy grown more powerful with every industrial-strength western military offensive. I have no idea why this simple idea is so mysterious to the governments Bush et al.
And to their puppets. Which brings us to the third part of the equation: Musharraf has received $9 billion from the US since 2002. Make no mistake, he is doing the bidding of the States, and people here are tired of that. Thousands of people have been rounded up and "disappeared," held indefinitely without charge, at the behest of the US and its "war on terror." Investigation of these disappearances was the reason why the Chief Justice was sacked the first time around. (What, you say never read about this in The New York Times or heard it on CNN? I'm so surprised.) Pakistanis are being tortured and killed to satisfy the Americans, or killing one another in military strikes. When the (Democrat-led) Congress responds by demanding that Pakistan "do more" or when idiots like Obama try to rustle up a few more votes by threatening to bomb the country, people are naturally furious that their countrymen's lives (private citizens, rebels and soldiers) are being sacrificed for an "ally" who talks to & about them in such terms.
All of which undermines Condi's petulant little comment that the US wants "a smooth transition to democracy" and won't tolerate anything else. What a joke: the US has been paying for "anything else" for the past six years. (And a good deal longer, in places like Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Latin America... make a list.) Tell anybody in this country that the States is keen to promote democracy, and they will fall down on the ground, helpless with laughter. Until they stop laughing and start getting pissed off. Because democracy is what they want, and the United States of America is devoting enormous resources to preventing it.
Let me say again: people here do NOT want an Iranian-style revolution or a Taliban-type takeover. But they think they have been co-opted into fighting someone else's war. Suicide bombings are a common occurrance here; before Mush's US-funded attacks, they had never taken place. Sunni-Shia attacks are more frequent than ever before, and so on. So are attacks on Christians and other minorities, previously rare. Violence begets violence, remember?
All of this has been bought and paid for by the United States. Musharraf is there because of the US. The war is taking place because of the US. People are being rounded up and "disappeared" because of the US.
So where all this will head, I can't say. Has Mush made a mistake by imposing the emergency? Probably. According to some reports, the Supreme Court was on the verge of overturning his election last month (elected by the provincial assemblies, not the population at large), so this is his way of retaining office. But has he made a mistake that will result in severe negative consequences for him? That's harder to say. The last time the Chief Justice got sacked, in March, people did protest and people did turn out on the streets, and the government did reinstate him after several months. Now there's even more bad feeling out there. So maybe something like that will happen again.