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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

AsiaweekTimeAsia NowAsiaweek story

FEBRUARY 11, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 5

New Vows in Islamabad
A judicial clampdown reflects wider troubles
By AJAY SINGH and AYAZ GUL Islamabad

The announcement followed four days of hectic political activity in Islamabad. At 2 a.m. on Jan. 26, President Rafiq Tarar issued a tersely worded ordinance, asking 102 Pakistani judges to take a new oath of allegiance to the military-led regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The pledge was aimed at absolving his three-month-old administration of any legal liability for its actions. In the most resounding rebuff yet to Musharraf, six of the 13 Supreme Court judges, including Chief Justice Saiduzzaman Siddiqi, refused to heed a 9 a.m. deadline for the oath. All were effectively dismissed, along with 16 provincial judges who also did not take the vow - nine of them under a slightly different circumstance: they weren't invited.

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• New Vows in Islamabad
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The following day, Pakistan's largest-circulation newspaper, Jang, presented the closest thing to an official explanation for the sordid drama. Quoting government sources, the daily alleged that Siddiqi had been bribed by associates of deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif to rule in favor of five petitions challenging Musharraf's Oct. 12 military coup. After dithering on the pleas for three months, the apex court was scheduled to hear them on a regular basis from Jan. 31. (The hearing has now been adjourned until March 1, and Siddiqi faces a probe for alleged graft.) One of the petitions is by the Pakistan Muslim League led by Sharif, who is currently being tried in a Karachi court on charges of treason and hijacking. A verdict is expected by the end of February. Sharif's aides were reportedly banking on the Supreme Court to declare Musharraf's coup illegal and suspend the case against the former premier. And if that spurred Musharraf to declare full-fledged martial law, said the Jang, the calculation apparently was that the damage to Pakistan's international image would compel U.S. President Bill Clinton to bypass the nation during his tour of India and Bangladesh scheduled to begin March 20. In short, the slight to Musharraf would be a triumph for Sharif.

The deposed PM is clearly Musharraf's biggest worry right now but hardly the only one. Musharraf also appears to be concerned about increasing pressure from a number of generals who are sore that the army chief is consolidating his power by appointing mainly India-born, Urdu-speaking officers like himself to important government posts. This has created resentment among Punjabi-speaking generals, who have traditionally been Pakistan's military overlords. Unless Musharraf accommodates them in his administration, he may find his position getting shaky in coming months.

It is no secret that Musharraf is not in full control of the army. Probably the only way he can achieve that is by adopting the hardline policies of Pakistan's previous military administrator Mohammad Zia ul-Haq. Besides meddling with the judiciary in 1981, Zia encouraged fundamentalist fervor in the ranks and imposed Islamic laws. Unlike the dictator, however, Musharraf is widely seen as a moderate who is keen to project a liberal face to the world. But this means he must play a dangerous balancing act in a country where extremist groups have long thrived. Some of them have lately stepped up calls for jihad (holy war) in Indian-administered Kashmir, straining relations with New Delhi and prompting calls from the U.S. to halt state support for terrorism (see related story). In the end, Musharraf's biggest worry may not be the outcome of Sharif's trial but growing extremism at home.

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