Further to our earlier post, an interesting – and rather bizarre – twist to the frenzy around Gen. Musharraf’s current US tour took place this Sunday when rumours of a potential coup in Pakistan began doing the round all over Pakistan.
According to the Daily Times (25 September, 2006):
President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s medical check up in a Texas hospital and a countrywide power breakdown combined to spark rumours of a military coup in the country on Sunday. Gen Musharraf underwent routine testing during an unannounced visit to the rural east Texas town of Paris, and was â€œfound to be in excellent health” according to a statement from Paris Regional Medical Centre. Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani said Gen Musharraf visited a friend who is a cardiologist at the hospital and he suggested the president be examined. â€œHe is as fit as a horse” Mr Durrani said.
However, in Pakistan, various rumours went around stating that the president had been poisoned, had had major heart surgery, or had been â€œdetained” by the US for revealing the Bush administration’s threat to bomb Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks. A nationwide power breakdown in the afternoon then led to further confusion and anxiety, with speculation rampant that someone called General Saleem had staged a military coup and the assemblies had been dissolved. The breakdown also meant television stations went off air and the Internet was inaccessible. Previous coups in Pakistan have been accompanied by an information clampdown for several hours. Daily Times and other media offices were inundated with phone calls from across the country from people wanting to know if the coup rumours were true.
General Musharraf’s reaction to all of this: â€œPakistan is not a banana republic. Everything is normal. There is no coup.” A similar report in Dawn (25 September, 2006):
…Newspaper offices were deluged with calls by concerned people who said they had heard on the grapevine that there had been a putsch in Islamabad following reports that the president had suffered a heart attack during his visit to the United States. Callers from Quetta said jubilant crowds poured on to the streets and fired into the air to celebrate the government’s removal.
Paying a visit to a local Sunday bazaar, a visibly chagrined Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told a reporter that his question about a change of government did not warrant an answer. â€œWhy do you ask about something that hasn’t occurred at all” said the prime minister in an effort to lay the rumour at rest. The prime minister said that he was actually concerned about the countrywide power breakdown.
… Minister of State for Information Tariq Azeem told a hurriedly-called press conference that a technical fault had sent Wapda’s electricity network reeling. While there were few takers for the government’s explanation about the reason of the power outage, some believed that an act of sabotage was responsible for the electricity breakdown throughout the country. Unconvinced cynics also feared that an unreported deterioration in President Musharraf’s health allowed a rumour about the change of government to fast gain ground. Instead of issuing a direct denial, the government released the latest footage of the president’s visit to the United States, showing Gen Musharraf in fine fettle.
Government officials said people heaved a sigh of relief when they saw that the president was not unwell. But opposition leaders said that they were certain that reports of the change of government were greeted not by alarm but a sense of relief by the masses.
the rumor, of course, was false and the product of overly fertile minds. However, the way the rumour spread says much about our national penchant for rumours, and also about the state of ‘edge’ on which we are forever perched, and the precariousness of Pakistan politics today.