Martial law crackdown in Pakistan creates concern in U.S.
Ask students to find news and background about Pakistan and discuss whether the presentations give enough information to understand the situation. Are varied views represented, including those of Pakistani Americans?
Independent news coverage is blocked or limited in Pakistan these days. As a reminder of press freedom here, have class members show examples of a column, editorial or opinion page article that criticizes a government official or policy
Washington leaders aren't the only ones commenting on events in Pakistan. Assign pupils to look for and share excerpts from the opinions of local professors, commentators or readers.
The leader of Pakistan, considered one of America's closest allies in fighting terrorism, last weekend took bold steps to reassert his fading power. Gen. Pervez Musharraf suspended his country's Constitution, fired the Supreme Court's chief justice, detained opposition leaders, limited domestic news coverage and sent police onto the capital's streets to enforce a state of emergency. This hard-line use of martial law to suppress political opposition drew immediate U.S. government criticism.
Musharraf (pronounced MOOSH-are-AFF) originally used military power to become president in a 1999 bloodless coup. The Bush administration, which has given Pakistan more than $10 billion in aid since 2001, had urged the general to move toward democracy rather than imposing military rule again to keep power forcibly. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the development "highly regrettable . . . because it takes Pakistan away from the path of democratic rule." In Islamabad, the capital, a U.S. Embassy statement said: "The government of the United States is gravely concerned about orders by the government of Pakistan to suppress the news media and to detain lawyers, politicians, human rights activists and others during the proclamation of emergency. Such extreme and unreasonable measures are clearly not in Pakistan's best interest, and contradict the progress Pakistan has made toward becoming a fully democratic society."
The general announced his bold steps in a 45-minute address on state-run TV, saying emergency powers are needed to limit terrorist attacks and "preserve the democratic transition that I initiated eight years back." He didn't say how long martial law would last or whether elections planed for January would be held. Musharraf used an example from U.S. history to justify his actions, comparing the state of emergency to President Abraham Lincoln's suspension of some rights during the American Civil War. A day after the clampdown, hundreds of lawyers and rights activists were arrested as government critics marched in protest. Riot police attacked opposition rallies with tear gas and clubs.
Pakistan's importance: It is the world's second most populous country with a Muslim majority. (Indonesia is first.) Its strategic location makes it an important U.S. military ally. Afghanistan and Iran are along Pakistan's western border, while India and China are its eastern neighbors.
Gen. Musharraf says: "As an idealist, Abraham Lincoln had one consuming passion during that time of crisis [the Civil War], and this was to preserve the Union. . . . Towards that end, he broke laws, he violated the Constitution, he usurped arbitrary power, he trampled individual liberties. His justification was necessity."
President Lincoln said: "My oath to preserve the Constitution imposed on me the duty of preserving by every indispensable means that government, that Nation of which the Constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the Nation and yet preserve the Constitution?" - Letter written in 1864
Front Page Talking Points is written by
Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2013
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