November 12, 2007

Killing Democracy To Save It?

That explanation came from Pervez Musharraf, who told a gathering of foreign journalists that his emergency decree intended to save democracy from itself. He also announced that parliamentary elections would likely take place in January as previously scheduled and not delayed until February. However, he also would not commit to lifting the PCO suspension of the constitution, which means the elections will almost certainly be held while Musharraf governs as a dictator:

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, announced Sunday that he wanted parliamentary elections to be held by early January but did not set a date for ending emergency rule, making it likely that any elections will take place with the constitution suspended and most civil liberties banned.

Musharraf, wearing a grim expression and a dark blue business suit, told foreign journalists that he had declared a state of emergency Nov. 3 "to save the democratic process" from a paralyzing conflict among the branches of government and to strengthen the ability of the security forces to fight Islamic insurgents and terrorism.

"This was the most difficult decision I have ever taken," Musharraf said. "I had to take a drastic measure to save the democratic process. . . . I stand by it because I think it was in the nation's interest."

With the growing terrorist threat and the country in "turmoil," he said, emergency rule "is required to ensure peace and an atmosphere conducive to elections."

How can one explain that it takes a dictatorship to hold free elections -- and do it with a straight face? It helps when the dictator declares that the military can court-martial anyone who makes "statements conducive to public mischief." In other words, anyone criticizing the Musharraf regime could find themselves in a military court. That would make it somewhat difficult for opposition parties and candidates to campaign openly and honestly in parliamentary election.

Musharraf has put himself into a position where he can't win, but could lose in increasingly horrible ways. If he retires the PCO, he'd most likely lose the elections and find himself isolated as a president. If he doesn't retire the PCO, the parliament that these elections create will have little credibility. If he steps down from the Army, he risks losing his power base altogether, which means he will not do so as promised. In most of these scenarios, he would wind up dead or in exile, and the Islamists will take control of the nation -- and its nuclear weapons.

Oddly, the new military powers were made retroactive to 2003. Musharraf wants to legitimize the detention of Pakistanis held without charge over the past four years. This doesn't appear to show much dedication to the return of the rule of law. It seems more like a commitment to military dictatorship.

If that's the case, though, why the Kabuki dance with Benazir Bhutto? Musharraf could have conducted this coup without her presence -- indeed, it would have been easier to do it with Bhutto outside of Pakistan rather than in Pakistan. Musharraf spent the better part of two years to get Bhutto to return in order to create a secular, middle-class civilian ruling coalition, and then he blew it up before it could even begin to coalesce.

The inconsistency seems the most troubling. Musharraf doesn't appear to have any grand strategy or master plan; his government looks more like improvisational theater. That doesn't build confidence in his ability to maintain his hold on power, or to keep the Islamists from grasping it.


TrackBack URL for this entry: