Focus: Pakistan Coup: The Follies That Provoked a General to Seize Power ; THE REACTION ON THE GROUND; despite the Uproar from Abroad, Most People Remain Unmoved by the Overthrow of Nawaz Sharif
Popham, Peter, The Independent (London, England)
All is calm in Islamabad, but Islamabad is almost always calm: dissent was designed out by the people who built it. There is a hulking, blandly modern parliament building, a giant national boulevard for parades, acres of fresh Tarmac for the admiration of visiting dignitaries. But there is no place for the people to assemble, no national square where masses could gather to protest or celebrate.
From my hotel window I can see the clustered topi-shaped domes of the Prime Minister's Secretariat, Nawaz Sharif's personal contribution to this pompous skyline. It's far too big, out-hulking the Supreme Court next door, and as befits a modern Punjabi monument it is covered in marble. Soon after Sharif moved in, he moved straight out again; in a gesture of austerity that fooled no one at all, he retired to slightly more modest premises. The Secretariat has been locked and barred ever since. Now the parliament building has gone the same way.
The Secretariat is a fitting monument to Sharif: frivolous, gigantic, redundant, now empty and abandoned. It was not on a scale to rival the follies of Ceausescu in Bucharest, but Sharif had been in power this time for less than three years: he had barely started. Though elected in February 1997 with a majority of 83 seats (out of a total of 217), he wasted little time building himself a dictatorship: emasculating or terrorising all institutions that could threaten him, including the presidency, the Supreme Court, the opposition, the press.
On Tuesday it was the turn of the army to fall to his chopper. By sacking (and incidentally, it is now alleged, also trying to murder) the army's chief of staff, General Pervez Musharraf, and appointing a crony and old family friend in his place, he intended to bring Pakistan's last independent institution under his control. But the army, still largely united, was ready for him. He came totally unstuck. The Sharif regime fell without a shot being fired.
The reaction in Pakistan to Sharif's removal has been strange. It took 36 hours for a spokesman from his own party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), to issue a mildly worded statement of protest. Three days after the event, demonstrators protesting his removal hit the streets of Lahore. They numbered about 30, of whom a dozen were arrested.
But neither has the army been greeted as conquering heroes. This has not been the Allies in Paris or the Yanks in Pristina. People dancing in the street have been as few as those protesting. The coup (apart from a nasty moment in a television studio, and some sharp exchanges in the vicinity of Karachi airport) was a quiet, almost polite affair, practically
invisible. Not only are the tanks not rumbling down Jinnah Boulevard, but soldiers are nowhere to be seen. Some local journalists even take the West to task for describing this event as a "coup" at all, as if this were a deliberately unfair way of castigating Pakistan. Perhaps "Mother's Union tea party" would be a more acceptable term.
It is not as if the Punjabis, the Pathans, the Sindhis and the rest are by nature undemonstrative people. Give them a festive pretext and they sway and screech and ululate and break-dance with the best of them. No, this is Pakistan's way of saying that what happened on Tuesday night was perhaps unfortunate and unpleasant - sacking a man when he is 37,000 feet up in the air is certainly not cricket. But in an important way it was normal. Nothing to get worked up about. Business as usual. This is the way we do things here. There is no cause for fuss or alarm.
Pakistan's preternatural calm this week has been Pakistan's way of telling the world this, but also of telling themselves.
Because it is indeed normal: that is the bitter and unpalatable fact. In January 1977, after the enactment of martial law here, a scholar named William E Richter wrote, "Pakistani …
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Publication information: Article title: Focus: Pakistan Coup: The Follies That Provoked a General to Seize Power ; THE REACTION ON THE GROUND; despite the Uproar from Abroad, Most People Remain Unmoved by the Overthrow of Nawaz Sharif. Contributors: Popham, Peter - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: October 17, 1999. Page number: 16,17. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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