November 29, 2007

The Six-Week Emergency

How long does it take to get to the end of a political emergency? Longer than it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, but shorter than it takes to get to the next election, at least in Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf now says he expects to cancel the PCO that sent his nation into a paroxysm of unrest by December 16th, the first time that he has given an end date for the state of emergency:

Musharraf's decision to end emergency rule by Dec. 16, revealed in a television address to the nation, came the same day he was sworn in as a civilian for his second five-year term as president. He resigned as army chief on Wednesday.

Seeking to end months of political crisis, Musharraf urged Pakistan's leading opposition figures — former prime ministers Sharif and Benazir Bhutto — to participate in the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections. ...

In announcing an end to the four-week state of emergency, Musharraf went partway toward meeting the opposition's concerns but said nothing about restoring the judges he purged or changing the makeup of the caretaker government.

If Musharraf expected this to smooth the waters, he will be disappointed. Nawaz Sharif, who just returned to Pakistan, has decided to boycott the Parliamentary elections anyway. Sharif has a conspicuous ally in cricket star Imran Khan, who staged a brief hunger strike when Musharraf's forces detained him in the first days of the emergency decree.

Will Benazir Bhutto join Sharif? So far, she has played coy. Her spokesperson says that decision has not yet been made. Bhutto pledged to boycott the elections if all other parties did, but clearly Musharraf's PML-Q will contest for seats on January 8th. Bhutto and Sharif have mostly opposed each other for the last two decades, and are unlikely allies even against Musharraf. Bhutto's return was widely seen as a way for Musharraf to marginalize the religious elements that bolster Sharif, but the PCO split Bhutto away from Musharraf, at least for now. A decision to campaign could allow Bhutto to win a significant parliamentary faction at Sharif's expense.

The end of emergency rule is a welcome development, although the judiciary shake-up doesn't instill confidence in the rule of law for Pakistan. Had Musharraf used this time for a massive strike against the radical Islamists, perhaps that would have been more encouraging. As it is, it looks more like an attempt to secure his own power while offering little against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.


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