November 06, 2007

Rough Disbarment in Islamabad

To cement his grip on power, Pakistani junta leader Pervez Musharraf has been rounding up lawyers and throwing them in jail. Life imitates art, I suppose, since Googling the subject turns up all kinds of references to the immortal line from William Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." This sounds like the first lawyer joke (it probably is), but the "sophisticated" view finds its way into most of the analyses of Pervez's overthrow of his own government (which he installed after he overthrew the government preceding his). The enlightened interpretation is that lawyers are guardians of public order and guarantors of due process and legality -- in a sense the conscience of society; ergo, a tyrant gets them out of the way first in order to break down restraints and organized resistance. I'm pretty sure that the exchange between Dick and Jack Cade in Henry VI wasn't about that. Theirs was a vision of a simple utopia where everyone had plenty to eat and there were no lawyers to bum you out by driving you off your land or throwing you in jail for debt. The other interpretation is a nice fantasy, but Shakespeare was going for a laugh with his lawyer joke. And I'll bet he got one.

I'm not sure why Pervez is incarcerating lawyers and judges. I suppose it's because they protested his suspension of elections and house-arresting the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court. Bush is now dithering in this moment of absurd Realpolitik. Everyone is quoting his Second Inaugural speech and its "freedom on the march" theme. The one about "standing with the oppressed," etc. Look, folks, you can't shame this man. If what's happened in Iraq doesn't bother him, a speed bump like this isn't going to disturb his adolescent slumber. He's hunkered down with his line about Pervez supporting our mighty war on terror, and while he's distressed (he indicates) about the Sheriff's suspension of democracy, the money Pervez needs to run his junta will keep on flowing from the U.S. Treasury to army HQ in Islamabad.

Matters are complicated by the Islamic Bomb, of course. That's the primary point, in fact. Thug that he is, Pervez seems reliable; he's not going to sell one of his A-bombs to al-Qaeda or send A.Q. Khan to Tehran to run a PowerPoint on nuke-construction. Benazir Bhutto (in a NY Times Op-Ed) tells us that the vast majority of Pakistanis are moderates who should be trusted with democracy, but Bush isn't buying. Last time he trusted the democratic process in a Muslim country, he wound up with Nouri al-Maliki. Which brings up an interesting point. I think I've seen a guy dressed up in a military uniform, wearing a moustache and squashing sectarian dissent in that part of the world before. As recently as 2003. He had to go, of course, know something? It gets confusing. Sometimes it seems our foreign policy operates with no principles whatsoever. Saddam didn't have the bomb, but we said he did. Pervez actually has missiles loaded with A-bombs, which we freely acknowledge. Saddam suppressed Muslim dissenters, just like Pervez. Saddam operated a police state, just like Pervez. Saddam was a bulwark against Iranian ascendancy, just like Pervez. On the other hand, Pervez seems to protect Osama bin Laden, and Saddam was his mortal enemy.

I think I'm clear here. Pervez never threatened George W. Bush's daddy. Or: since Poppy Bush never invaded Pakistan, there was no way for Junior to go him one better. Beyond the looking glass, where the Bush Administration dwells, you take your principles where you find them.

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