To the lore of bloody coups, hangings and military takeovers in Pakistan add this sinister scene: Army generals are surrounding ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother, Shabbaz, and his son, Hussein, in Sharif's residence. While refusing to let the besieged premier take a call from London from his pleading 22-year-old son, Hassan, the generals are trying to legitimize an unconstitutional event. With slick black hair, perfect manners and pressed uniforms, they are urging Sharif to resign and rescind an order sacking their boss, army chief Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf. Sharif refuses both demands. A relative who witnessed the drama told Hassan that his father resisted, telling the generals that "they have the troops and the weapons and they could do what they wanted, but he was not going to resign." The Sharifs are taken to a military installation, described as a rest house near the Islamabad airport, and they are held incommunicado.
"Since then, there is no news whatsoever. I don't care if he is a politician or a prime minister, there should be no force to stop a father and a son from communicating. I don't want to speak to some officer, I want to speak to my father," Hassan said in a telephone interview from London yesterday.
Amnesty International's advocacy director for Asia, T. Kumar, issued a statement yesterday urging U.S. Ambassador William B. Milam to visit the prime minister, held under "protective custody," and to immediately seek assurances from coup leaders that Sharif, his family and other government detainees will not be harmed. Milam should try to meet the prime minister to "verify his well-being and to provide expression of U.S. concern for his safety and that of his supporters," Kumar said in an interview.
He added that Sharif is being pressured now to officially step down and withdraw the order firing Musharraf, which prompted the coup, probably with personal threats to his family. In Lahore, at the Sharif family complex, the butlers and household staff were evacuated, Hassan said, and one of Sharif's daughters, Mariam, 25, was prevented by officers from visiting her mother who lives there with a younger sister, Asma, 19. A cousin elsewhere in the complex was unable to check on his aunt.
While pundits reflect about the coup's effect on the South Asian country's already battered democracy, Kumar warned of the consequences on Pakistani Muslim women fearful of a Talibanization of their religion and society. But politicians, who should know better, have welcomed the developments as an opening to step back into the fray. Kumar said the coup should serve as a "wake-up call to the international community." He added that there is an "urgent need to halt and reverse Pakistan's increased use of torture, arbitrary arrests and detention of political opponents; torture in Pakistan leads to more than 100 deaths each year and the number of political killings has risen." Kumar said he contacted two State Department officials Wednesday when fears arose that Sharif could be killed. State Department spokesmen at first refused to call it a coup, he said, because if they do, they will have to impose sanctions.
"In my personal view, this backing away will give other military leaders the idea that they could easily push someone else out of power. They want to maintain contact, but this is a kind of double-edged sword when you are compromising fundamentals," Kumar explained. It is difficult to defend Sharif's actions over the past three years, he said, but imperative to condemn extra-constitutional tactics and human rights violations in general in Pakistan, which seem to have become the norm.
European Allies Unite
Everyone wants to dance away from the fancy diplomatic footwork and fallout from the resounding defeat in the Senate of the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty aimed at stopping nuclear weapons tests.
President Clinton pointed out yesterday that the leaders of Britain, France and Germany took the extraordinary step of writing an op-ed piece urging its passage.
"We don't have any better allies, asking us to ratify this treaty," he said. "And in [this] case, not to defeat it. So this was also an amazing rebuke to our allies."
In only three days, Europe's three major capitals had signed off on an article which appeared in the New York Times last Friday, ghost-written, mixed and orchestrated for French President Jacques Chirac, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder by their diplomatic staffs here and back home. The op-ed said: "For the security of the world we will leave to our children, we urge the United States Senate to ratify the treaty. . . . Our security is involved as well as America's."
It was a classic case of diplomacy intersecting with domestic politics, and backfiring in Europe. The article was, in the words of one European diplomat, an "unprecedented move by the heavyweights of Europe."
"For the first time in history they took a clear-cut position on a burning issue in the United States," he said.
The Europeans were eager to highlight their concerns and the White House could not have agreed more. The text was run by the White House, if not more. But to no avail. And now the Europeans, like the White House, say they are not quitting on this issue. What's the next move, then, please?