A key American ally in President Bush’s war on terror has recently demonstrated the most repugnant of political shenanigans that of using dictatorial military powers to warp and twist the constitutional rules in a naked grab to hold on to power. Today, Pakistan is in a mess and is tottering on the very brink of a full-scale domestic crisis brought about by the long abuse of that country’s constitution by a general drunk with power and unwilling to pursue any alternative democratic means whatsoever.
Saturday’s declaration by General Pavez Musharraf of a national state of emergency is the culmination of a series of events all of which has undermined the socio-political fabric of the country and increasingly saw Musharraf rule by decree and bypassing all the safeguards enshrined in the country’s constitution.
He has shown that he’s immune and not willing to answer to the democratic will of the people and cares very little about what the world thinks of his actions. Confident in the fact that he’s a favored son of President Bush and the US Administration, Musharraf has violated law after law; the most recent when he arrogantly brushed aside the Pakistan Supreme Court’s ruling that the prime minister that he deposed in a coup in 1999 could return to contest upcoming general elections in January 2008.
Musharraf unceremoniously ordered the man deported to Saudi Arabia while the Bush Administration said nothing and the European Union also pretended that nothing happened. Washington favors Ms. Benazir Bhutto as some kind of partner to the pugnacious general and long viewed the former Pakistani Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, as an obstacle to its political arranged marriage. So nobody protested when Musharraf ran rough shod over the rule of law and the decision of the highest court in the land by illegally forcing Mr. Sharif to go to Saudi Arabia.
One illegality followed after another and while Musharraf allowed Ms. Bhutto to come home from exile he also wanted a guarantee – even before the first vote was cast – that whatever form the power sharing was going to take he would not be politically irrelevant. So to facilitate this move Musfarraf packed the local and regional political institutions with his hand-picked cronies and lackeys. These bodies recently gave him near unanimous approval by voting him for another presidential term. Such legal political rigging drew not comments from President Bush or the regime’s backers in Europe.
That only helped to internally inflame things and he became locked in a bitter struggle with Pakistan’s judiciary that appeared to be the only organized force defending the country’s constitution and affirming the independence of the judiciary. Musharraf had removed the head of the Supreme Court once before that sparked a major confrontation between him and the lawyers that forced him to reinstate the leader of the judiciary.
But these are the symptoms of a country in deep crisis. Yes, Musharraf does face tremendous domestic problems mainly due to his new-found friendship with the United States and his embrace of Mr. Bush’s war on terror that has earned him the nickname of “Busharraf.” Hard-line militants, unruly and ungovernable frontier provinces, Musharraf’s head butting with anything and anyone that threatens his iron grip on Pakistan, and his willingness to defecate on the country’s constitution have all contributed to the present crisis.
However, when all of that is boiled down the situation is very simple: The present crisis clearly demonstrates the fragile nature of Pakistani democracy and the frictions and tensions that historically exist between these fledgling democratic institutions and structures, on the one hand, and the vulnerable nature and susceptibility of the society to military dictatorships. And while all this is happening President Musharraf must earn the $10 billion keep from his US taskmasters so he’s engaged in a confrontation with Islamist extremists (partly created by his coziness with Mr. Bush) that is now resident in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, and a low-level war in the renegade tribal areas where the Taliban and Al Qaeda has dug in.
Talk about a witches brew. When you add the nationalist rebellion in Baluchistan and the simmering conflict with India over Kashmir and a growing populist resentment of Musharraf, especially in the Muslim streets, over his love affair with Mr. Bush and the situation becomes only bleaker.
And there are serious implications over Musharraf’s recent suspension of the constitution and his declaration of a state of emergency for the Bush Administration. For one thing Washington and President Bush cannot feign indifference any longer. Washington must be very worried about the possibility of a nuclear-armed Pakistan falling into the political hands of one of its many enemies who hate both President Bush and “Busharraf.” That is a nightmare scenario that is aft to give Mr. Bush the hibbie-jibbies.
Yet the problem for Washington is that it cannot appear to be backing Musharraf too strongly on this one because his actions run counter to presumed American support for democracy and a rejection of the kinds of dictatorial maneuvers that Musharraf has been doing of late. Military dictatorship is no substitute for democracy and President Musharraf has succumbed to the same kinds of corruption that he’s accused both Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Sharif of in the past.
And too, any open United States support for Musharraf will only add fuel to the fire and increase popular anger at the United States as a hypocrite and supporter of a military dictatorship. In the eyes of his countrymen and the Muslim world while he rules with an iron hand in Pakistan Musharraf will be viewed simply as a supine pawn of the United States, a willing water boy, doing the bidding of his masters in Washington – something that hew wants desperately to avoid.
Musharraf must be playing for time and must know that general elections that were scheduled for January 2008 is now clearly out. But he’s in a Catch 22 here because he must know that the longer he imposes martial law is the more isolated that his regime will become and the more anger and resentment in Pakistan itself. Musharraf is sitting on a powder keg with a lit fuse and he knows it. He’s already tried to reinterpret the Pakistani Constitution by seeking to run for the presidency for a third time and perhaps this precipitous state of emergency was in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling against him.
So in the most high-handed manner imaginable Musharraf removed and arrested the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice and replaced him with his own hand-picked crony. That move effectively puts Musharraf at odds with Ms. Bhutto because she has been championing the issue of democracy in Pakistan. For the United States this ends the shot-gun marriage between Bhutto and Musharraf even before the honeymoon started. It also puts in doubt her viability as a key political players in so volatile of circumstances.
For Washington watching this dictatorship implode and crumble and unable to do anything to stop it is something that must be exceedingly galling indeed. President Bush has long touted General Musharraf as a strong partner in his campaign against global terrorism. The United States president has ignored Musharraf’s spotty democratic credentials and the fact that he came to power in 1999 in a coup and reneged on his promise to give up his position as army chief while serving as president.
In fact, part of the present problem is his maneuvers and antics to retain both positions in a new configuration ahead of the now jeopardized January 2008 elections. Also, Mr. Bush’s enthusiastic and glowing praise for Musharraf in the context of the war on terror is disingenuous at best. After billions of US dollars and a mountain of promises Musharraf’s approach has been one of fits and starts. He’s delivered only a few Al Qaeda suspects and has negotiated peace agreements with the rambunctious Waziristan province and pledged to pull back the army. Intelligence sources say that his area is the stronghold of Al Qaeda and the Taliban – two sworn enemies of the United States.