After months of political turmoil in Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency last Saturday, suspended the constitution, removed the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and imposed tough curbs on the media. Although General Musharraf justified these moves in the name of combating terrorism, many analysts suspect that they had more to do with an impending Supreme Court decision that would have invalidated his re-election in early October.
The ousted chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is urging those lawyers who have taken to the streets in Pakistan’s major cities to continue defying de facto martial law. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party who recently returned home after 8 years of self-imposed exile, accuses General Musharraf of having removed “all pretense of a transition to democracy” by conducting an extra-constitutional “coup.” Although General Musharraf said Thursday that general elections will take place before February 15 – a month later than originally scheduled – Ms. Bhutto has pledged to move ahead with plans to hold a rally on Friday in Rawalpindi against his declaration of emergency rule. And on Tuesday, opponents of emergency rule would begin a “long march” across the Punjab from Lahore to Islamabad.
Pakistani journalist Husain Haqqani, who directs Boston University’s Center for International Relations, agrees with analysts who say General Musharraf’s decision to impose martial law came when it did because he feared the Supreme Court was about to rule against his holding the dual office of president and army chief. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA’s News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Haqqani says his actions against the Supreme Court and the legal community demonstrate that his “real problem was with Pakistan’s judiciary” rather than with the terrorists, as he claimed.
Bronwen Maddox, chief political commentator with The Times of London, says it is ironic that each step General Musharraf has taken to strengthen his hold on power in the name of “stability” has instead generated instability. She suggests that the “best hope” is that Britain and America can work together with General Muharraf and Benazir Bhutto to bring about parliamentary elections as originally scheduled. In fact, President Bush and other Western leaders have urged General Musharraf to resign as army chief and hold the elections in January. He now says those elections will take place “before February 15” and that he will step down as army chief once the Supreme Court approves his disputed reelection victory. Bronwen Maddox suggests that the most critical factor in his ability to retain control is his continued support within the Pakistani military, which may in fact be slipping. Ms. Maddox says she thinks the army, which has been “demoralized” by its heavy losses on the border with Afghanistan, would be reluctant to “turn on ordinary Pakistanis” in the event of large public protests.
Bronwen Maddox says that for the time being Western governments are pursuing a judicious course – that is, telling the general he must lift martial law, step down as head of the army, and hold elections soon. However, she says, cutting off aid would be unwise, as Pakistan “needs development urgently, particularly in the western regions that are in danger of infiltration by militants.” Pakistani journalist Husain Haqqani agrees that General Musharraf must remove his military uniform to be acceptable to the people and that political leaders must work with one another to create a nation under the rule of law and the supremacy of the Pakistani constitution.