A dangerous life for a military dictator has grown even more precarious this weekend. Pervez Musharraf, who has fought Islamist extremists looking to assassinate him, now faces a burgeoning battle with democractization activists angered by his suspension of the chief justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court (via Memeorandum):
Clashes between government supporters and opposition activists flared for a second day Sunday in the country's largest city, bringing the weekend death toll to about 40.
The clashes in the southern city of Karachi were prompted by a judicial crisis that has gripped the country since March 9, when the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, suspended Pakistan's chief justice for alleged abuses of office. Since then, protesters have frequently taken to the streets to rally against what they see as an attempt by Musharraf to snuff out fledgling democratic institutions and ease his way to another term.
On Saturday, the judge, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who denies the charges against him, was scheduled to speak at a rally in Karachi. But he was prevented even from leaving the airport. The protests soon turned violent as members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a coalition partner of Musharraf's known as MQM, exchanged fire with anti-Musharraf demonstrators.
Although the fighting Sunday was less intense than it had been on Saturday, as many as six more people were killed.
So far, Musharraf has survived by working both sides of the street. He played footsie with Islamists off and on before 9/11 forced him to decide whether to stick with the Taliban and face the inevitable consequences. Even after that, though, Musharraf has tried to let them go their own way in Waziristan as much as he possibly can without incurring the wrath of the US. He has even begun building a wall along the Afghanistan border, which has Pashtuns there incensed but which he hopes will discourage the transit of terrorists into Afghanistan and reduce the provocations along the border.
Musharraf has also tried to play nice with the democrats. He has promised elections and insists that he will not try to rule Pakistan for life, but so far has shown little progress in returning Pakistan to its democratic institutions. He even has a website dedicated to his vision of a "holistic" democracy in Pakistan, necessarily long on talk and short on action.
One cannot play both sides against the middle for a long-term strategy. Musharraf might be realizing that now, and he's showing the democrats that his vision of holistic democracy involves Musharraf increasing his grip on power, or at least maintaining it. In fact, it's impossible to determine just how many of the rioters were democrats and how many were Islamists -- and that is the long-range risk of Musharraf's strategy. Sooner or later, the two factions will discover that they have a mutual interest in getting rid of Musharraf, and the Islamists will benefit the most from that alliance.