Pakistan – ugly and getting uglier (update)

At first, the situation seemed like an extreme way to deal with a Supreme Court Musharraf disagrees with:

He accused the country’s Supreme Court of releasing 61 men who he said were under investigation for terrorist activities. “Judicial activism,” he said, had demoralized the security forces, hurt the fight against terrorism and slowed the spread of democracy. “Obstacles are being created in the way of democratic process,” he said, “I think for vested, personal interests, against the interest of the country.”

The dispute apparently goes back a few months:

“This is the first time Musharraf has brought in military rule to sustain himself in power,” he said. “He felt threatened by the Supreme Court.”

Mr. Chaudhry, the former chief justice, has been the focal point of the opposition to General Musharraf since the president fired him in March. With support from lawyers, judges and a wide public following, Mr. Chaudhry led a street-style political campaign against his summary firing that helped fuel popular sentiment against General Musharraf.

The Supreme Court reinstated Mr. Chaudhry this summer, and in September it ruled in favor of General Musharraf, saying he could run for re-election while still in uniform.

Hardly the portrait of a “Constitutional” ruler, but then it would be hard to argue that a guy who took over the country in a bloodless coup in 1999 was particularly concerned about the Constitution.

However, given the political situation in Pakistan and the fact that the country is on the eve of the election season, this may be a mistake by Musharraf. Opposition leaders and candidates are obviously going to take advantage of this situation as an object lesson as to why Musharraf should be voted out of office (obviously if they are ever able to have an election). And it appears that said opposition leaders plan some street protests to push their case:

Late Saturday evening, Islamabad and other major cities were quiet. But analysts said that General Musharraf’s fate would play out on Pakistan’s streets over the next three to four days.

If Ms. Bhutto’s party and other opposition groups are able to mount nationwide street protests, the general could be forced from power. In the past, Pakistan’s army has ousted military leaders when they felt their actions were damaging to the army as an institution.

“If there are street agitations and a lot of people are arrested, he’ll have problems,” Mr. Rizvi said.

At the same time, Ms. Bhutto’s political career is at stake as well, Mr. Rizvi said. If she fails to lead protests, she will lose legitimacy as an opposition leader, he said. And if she tries and produces a paltry turnout, she could find herself in jail or exile.

Or, unfortunately, dead (as there has already been one assassination attempt on her on the day she returned).

The US has been less than supportive of Musharraf’s move:

In blunt and brief comments on Saturday, American officials condemned General Musharraf’s move. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded a “quick return to constitutional law.” And in Washington, the White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said, “This action is very disappointing,” and he called on General Musharraf to honor his earlier pledge to resign as army commander and hold nationwide elections before Jan. 15.

Before the chicken-littles of the left get too wound up about this, it’s a situation we need to see develop a bit more. Frankly, it appears to be an internal political dispute much more than a threat by extremist Islamists (and the possibility that they may take over the government, get the bomb, and, well, you know the rest). The US needs to maintain and probably ratchet up the pressure on Musharraf to reinstate Constitutional power and desist from using martial law as a method of settling political problems. Such moves, however, are a characteristic move of authoritarian dictators, and there’s little doubt that Musharraf, if given the opportunity, would be exactly that.

The other point the US needs to stress is it would be extremely unwise to delay the Jan. 15 elections or to go after opposition leaders if they lead protests against Musharraf’s actions. Musharraf must be reminded that in a free country, such protests must be allowed. And, in as volitile a state as Pakistan is at the moment, any sort of brutal suppression could be the spark that sets off the magazine of open revolt. And if that happens, all sorts of bad outcomes could be the result.

This will be an interesting week or two in Pakistan and we need to monitor developments in that country closely. It will also be interesting to see if US diplomacy can, in that short time, make a positive difference.

UPDATE: New developments. Not good. In fact, not good at all:

Pakistan’s government on Sunday continued a nationwide crackdown on the political opposition, the media and the courts, one day after President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule and suspended the constitution in a bid to save his job.

Police throughout the country raided the homes of opposition party leaders and activists, arresting hundreds. Top lawyers were also taken into custody, and at the offices of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in the eastern city of Lahore, 70 activists were detained. Journalists covering the raid had their equipment confiscated by police, and were ordered off the premises.

The international advocacy group Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning the move as “an appalling attack on human rights defenders.”

Up to 500 opposition activists had been arrested in the last 24 hours, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said Sunday.

Aziz said the extraordinary measures would remain in place “as long as it is necessary.” Aziz said parliamentary elections could be postponed up to a year, but no decision has been made regarding a delay.

Those actions and statements really up the ante. They go beyond a possible internal dispute and are fairly significant signals that Musharraf is headed towards establishing completely totalitarian rule. Things could get ugly quickly.

Question: Where’s the military on all of this?

Originally published at QandO. Please come visit us.

Share this!

Enjoy reading? Share it with your friends!

Send this to a friend