BREAKING NEWS: Chemerinsky to Serve As PM in Power-Sharing Accord With Musharraf

(Just kidding. But now that you've been lured into reading a post about Pakistan....) As I briefly noted last week, General Pervez Musharraf rather quickly dashed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's hopes of a triumphal homecoming last week. After throwing hundreds of leaders and other supporters from Sharif's political party in jail to prevent them from organizing a big welcome, Musharraf's regime acquiesced to the invited entreaties of the Saudi intelligence chief by taking Sharif into custody at the airport in Islamabad, hustling him into an awaiting aircraft, and rendering him to Saudi Arabia.

Pakistani officials seemed to have some difficulty getting their story straight on exactly what transpired:

  • Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz: "'We did not force him to return. I have been told that he was given two options -- either to go to prison or proceed to Saudi Arabia,' the prime minister said in a live interview with a private television channel on Monday evening." [link]

  • Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani: "Nawaz Sharif has gone to Saudi Arabia according to the same agreement that took him there earlier." [link]

  • Musharraf backer Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain: "A few hours after the event, on the evening of 10th September, the PML (Q) chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain appeared on Geo television and disingenuously announced that the deportation had taken place entirely at the behest of the Saudis. And further, that while he and his party had demanded that Nawaz Sharif be given an unobstructed right of return to Pakistan, the written request of the ‘Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ had rightly been given precedence over domestic concerns." [link]

  • • Pakistan's Foreign Ministry: "When asked whether it was not paradoxical that on one hand the government criticised statements from foreign capitals on Pakistan’s domestic affairs and on the other hand it solicited intervention of other countries in its internal political issues, the spokesperson said: 'We do not accept foreign interference in our internal affairs as we do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. This is an accepted, recognised international norm. As regards the ongoing events, well this is not in my domain. I would suggest you seek comments from other government spokespersons.'" [link]

Sharif is now once again a "guest" of the Saudi royals in Jiddah -- a "guest," that is to say, who apparently is being held incommunicado in what seems best described as "house arrest."

Whatever else one might say about this sordid affair and its flawed protagonists, to say that Sharif was "deported" -- as the Musharraf regime and most mainstream media have largely characterized the expulsion -- doesn't seem quite the correct way to put it. "Deportation" connotes the orderly explusion of a non-citizen pursuant to some sort of lawful, regularized process. Sharif, however, is a citizen of Pakistan who, as the Supreme Court of Pakistan explicitly said only weeks ago, has an "inalienable right to enter and remain" in his country of citizenship. Even assuming that the new corruption charges slapped upon Sharif at the airport have some merit, an assumption which certainly doesn't require one to stretch the imagination all that much, the normal approach would of course be to try him on those charges in Pakistan, rather than to summarily banish him without trial to Saudi Arabia, where he hasn't been charged with anything. And the process by which Sharif was expelled to Saudi Arabia -- which seems to bear a family resemblance to the process by which one gets on a flight booked with Jeppesen International Trip Planning -- was anything but orderly and lawful, as the many journalists and supporters who accompanied Sharif from London to Islamabad witnessed and recounted:

The authorities moved clumsily but quickly. Hospitality was swept aside. New charges of corruption were made against Mr Sharif and he was manhandled away. The Pakistani Government claims that he chose a return to exile rather than detention. The tea cups and biscuits were ground underfoot. Aside from a few scuffles and shouted insults, the test of strength was over in seconds. [link]

Human Rights Watch maintains that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia "have flouted international law by forcibly transferring Nawaz Sharif into exile." Some Pakistani lawyers and human rights advocates have gone even further, arguing not only that Musharraf's government should be held in contempt of court for violating the Supreme Court's order that Sharif be permitted to enter and remain in the country, but even that the individuals responsible should be criminally charged with kidnapping:

Legal experts and lawyers representatives, terming it an open violation of the Supreme Court's orders to send Mian Nawaz Sharif forcibly to Saudi Arabia, said the PML-N chief was abducted by Pakistani authorities since no Pakistani citizen can be deported under any law. The experts maintained that, according to section 363 of [Pakistan Penal Code], the military dictator can be punished with seven years imprisonment for sending Nawaz Sharif beyond the limits of Pakistan without his consent. [link]
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Is the hidden hand in Sharif's expulsion that of the office of the Vice President? The Musharraf regime has denied that the U.S. government played any role in Sharif's rendition, and officially, Washington regards Sharif's transfer from one allied country to another, across international airspace, as an "internal matter" for Pakistan. Yet, the sequence of events in this episode remains remarkably odd:

Believing in silent diplomacy and enjoying extremely good relations with Pakistan and its people, Riyadh not only sent its intelligence chief to Islamabad, but also asked it to re-exile Sharif as soon as he lands.

On the very day when Sharif was exiled, [Musharraf ally] Chaudhry Shujaat [Hussain] admitted in a Geo News talk show that not only he, but Musharraf was also of the view to allow Sharif's entry into Pakistan.

Shujaat, however, disclosed that still the former premier was exiled because of Saudi rulers' insistence that Sharif should be deported back to Riyadh. [link]

Reports of Washington's involvement have abounded:

In the case of Sharif's exile, some Middle Eastern countries had seriously tried to blackout the event that was being broadcast by private Pakistani television channels.

A journalist in one of these countries was clearly told by the local authorities that they are under pressure from Washington to do this.

Former Prime Minister Sharif initially wanted to come to Islamabad after seven years of exile via Dubai, but changed his mind after being warned that the Dubai authorities might divert him to Riyadh because of American pressure. [link]

And at least one unnamed Bush administration official could barely contain his glee at Sharif's rendition:

One Bush administration official, declining to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue, said the deportation was “not necessarily the worst thing that could happen.” While the United States is loath to appear publicly as if it is interfering in Pakistan’s politics, the Bush administration has been urging General Musharraf to agree to a power-sharing deal with another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. . . .

The Bush administration official said that one hope now was that General Musharraf’s strong move against Mr. Sharif would enable him to stand up to Mr. Sharif’s allies in Pakistan and go ahead with the power-sharing deal. [link]

Regardless of whether the United States had any involvement, the whole episode seems to reflect rather poorly upon the State Department. Lots of U.S. taxpayer money gets spent every year on rule of law initiatives in Pakistan, and yet, when the Musharraf regime brazenly undermines the rule of law by openly defying a major ruling by the Supreme Court of Pakistan -- which, with the support of many lower court judges and large segments of the Pakistani bar and civil society, has been exhibiting as much integrity and independence as at any time in its history -- senior State Department officials proceed with high-level meetings with Musharraf as if nothing of concern had happened at all.

An even greater reckoning may be right around the corner:

Now Justice Chaudhry has set up a nine-member panel of Supreme Court judges to begin hearing two constitutional cases against Musharraf: the first disputing his right to seek re-election, the second his right to continue in high political office while heading the army.

Either could prevent Musharraf from staying in office beyond the next few weeks, in which case allies say he is ready to impose full military rule. “If the court confronts me, I’ll definitely use the option of martial law,” Musharraf told a senior party member recently, the newspaper said. [link]

What will our gleeful, unnamed Bush administration official be saying if that happens? And the State Department?