Political opponents are describing Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of a state of emergency as his second military coup – or how to hold on to absolute power under the guise of restoring law and order and democracy. “I had to take this action in order to
preserve the democratic transition which I initiated eight years back,” said Musharraf.
Eight years ago, making the most of a tense military situation in Indian Kashmir, the newly appointed army chief seized power with the support of the military without a shot being fired – all the while promising to restore democracy in the country. Keen to support any sign of stability, the West quickly gave Musharraf its approval particularly after he presented himself as a bulwark against Islamist fundamentalism and Al Qaeda.
Indeed the US has been a tireless supporter but recent signs of political unrest, and accusations that militants have been using Pakistan as a base point to that support receding. “The United States does not support, and communicated it to the Pakistani leadership prior to this action, that it would not support extra-constitutional means,” said Condoleezza Rice.
How long Musharraf will manage to hold on to power remains to be seen. Without doubt the role of the military will be crucial but it will also depend on whether the criticism from his US allies remains muted or backed up with action.
And if the end is nigh for Musharraf it could also spell out problems of others… former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto may be Washington’s favourite and an enemy of al Qaeda but she returned to Pakistan on a ticket based on an alliance with Musharraf. Her political judgement is now being questioned.