Emergency rule in Pakistan: Musharraf's last grab for power?
Citing terrorism and an 'activist' judiciary, the president says martial law will prevent the country from committing 'suicide.'
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"I cannot allow the country to commit suicide," the president told viewers.Skip to next paragraph
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There is little evidence, though, that the order has any real relation to terrorism, say experts and security analysts. The extremists in Pakistan's border regions are not a threat to the solvency of the state, nor is emergency rule likely to change the Army's fortunes in fighting them.
"Martial law does not add to his strength in terms of the forces on the ground," says Shafqat Mahmood, a columnist for the newspaper The News. "All this does is remove his concerns about the Supreme Court."
Most analysts agree that the timing of the order was probably linked to the Supreme Court, which was set to decide this week whether Musharraf's reelection as president in October was illegal. Opponents argued that his dual post of president and Army chief was unconstitutional.
"He could have done this exact same maneuver even after the Supreme Court had ruled against him," says Rasul Baksh Rais, a political scientist at Lahore University of Management Sciences. "But it might have been a shade more obvious why it was done."
In declaring a state of emergency, Musharraf has cleared the court of those most likely to oppose him, including the independent-minded chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, whom he had also tried to oust in March, unsuccessfully.
When Musharraf previously attempted to remove Mr. Chaudhry, lawyers led nationwide protests with political parties and civil society groups, eventually forcing Musharraf to relent. But it is uncertain whether lawyers will be able to mount a similar campaign now that the Constitution has been suspended and all the lawyers' leaders jailed.
"I cannot see the movement as it was previously," says Asma Jehangir, a Musharraf critic and lawyer, who says she is now under house arrest. "People have to be led" and there is no leadership left.
In the end, though, the final word will almost certainly lie with the Army, says Rizvi.
"That is the only institution that can take him out or put him in power," he says.
The Pakistani Army is loath to break ranks and overthrow its own chief. As in the past, it would be likely only do so if the opposition could create a mass movement against Musharraf that the Army's top brass could not ignore.
Says Rizvi: "The military has never supported a discredited regime."
On Saturday night, news of the order brought only confusion – partially because all the independent television news stations had been taken off the air.
Hassan Iqbal, an employee at a music store in Islamabad's central market, joked that it was probably the first time since the shop opened five years ago that he had watched the state-run channels.
"This place was packed a few hours ago," he said on Sunday. "Uncertainty scares us all – maybe even more than bombs."
If Musharraf has succeeded in sidelining the lawyers' movement, that leaves the field to Pakistan's political opposition, some of which was spared in the purge.
Some see a conspiracy in the fact that Bhutto returned from visiting her family in Dubai without any government harassment after the state of emergency had been called.
"It can't be without some sort of arrangement" with Musharraf, suggests Mr. Mahmood, the columnist.
Others, however, see this as an opportunity for Pakistan's chronically splintered opposition to forge a more united and mobilized front – lawyers, judges, and political parties.
"The opposition has always been more constrained by its own weaknesses and their own deals undermining one another," says Bilal Mehmood, chairman of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency.