Thursday, August 9, 2007

State Of Emergency Imminent In Pakistan?

Embattled President-General Pervez Musharraf is considering his options, and may soon declare a state of emergency, according to television and newspaper reports from Pakistan. The purpose of such a declaration would be obvious: to stifle dissent and perhaps allow Musharraf to retain his increasingly fragile hold on power. The pretext would be quite different, and could include clashes in the mountainous north-west following the siege and assault on Lal Masjid, a continuing wave of suicide attacks (which seem to be abating somewhat), and a purported threat from "Islamist extremists" which appears at this point to be heavily exaggerated.

As the AP reported,
During a state of emergency, the government can restrict the freedom to move, rally, engage in political activities or form groups as well as take a slew of other measures, including restricting the parliament's right to make laws and can even dissolve parliament.
Dissolution of parliament would be a major blunder, according to Musharraf's opponents. But he may not care very much what they think.

Earlier in the day, and much to the disappointment of his backers in America,
Musharraf abruptly announced he was canceling a planned trip to Kabul on Thursday to attend a U.S.-backed tribal peace council with Afghan President Hamid Karzai aimed at curtailing cross-border militancy by the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Musharraf's loyalties have almost always been a cause for concern, and it may suit him very well to miss the jirga.

On the other hand, he has plenty of problems to contend with in Islamabad.
One of Musharraf's worries at home is a Supreme Court hearing set for Thursday about a petition in which exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother are seeking to be allowed to return to Pakistan contest parliamentary elections due by early 2008. Sharif was ousted in 1999 in the coup that brought Musharraf to power.
Another former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, also figures into the story somehow. Musharraf has reportedly met with her in an effort to forge a power-sharing plan that would make her Prime Minister and leave him as President. But Bhutto has set conditions which Musharraf may find impossible to meet.

Musharraf tried to solve some of his domestic political problems in March when he suspended the Chief Justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who favors the country's constitution over its Gemeral-President, and seemed prepared to rule against Musharraf's intention to stand for re-election illegally as the army's chief of staff. But last month the Supreme Court reinstated the Chief Justice, so Musharraf still faces formidable obstacles in his quest to retain power. Worse yet for the President-General, Chaudhry's insistence that the charges against him were bogus, and his determination to regain his seat on the court, sparked a pro-democracy movement led by the country's lawyers, the rise of which has made Musharraf's position even more precarious than it already was.

The declaration, if it comes, may come very soon, according government insiders. As the AP report notes:
An aide to the president, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Musharraf was due to meet with Cabinet ministers, the attorney-general and leaders from the ruling party on Thursday to discuss whether an emergency should be declared.

He did not expect a declaration of an emergency in the early hours of Thursday.

Another senior government official, who also requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Musharraf had held several meetings Wednesday with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, legal experts and top figures of the ruling party and the leaking of possible emergency plans indicated that it was a serious option.
All this has been denied by the Information Minister, as Reuters reports:
State-run Pakistan Television quoted official sources as saying the reports were baseless and Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani denied to Reuters that a meeting had been held to discuss the imposition of an emergency, as rumours swept the country.
But Duranni's deputy sang a slightly different tune:
"Both internal and external threats are such that you cannot rule out anything. At the moment there is no emergency. We have said that options are available with the government," Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan told Geo TV, one of the channels reporting that the measure would be announced soon.
In a related development, the Parliamentary Secretary for Defense, Major (Ret.) Tanvir Hussain Syed, has accused the CIA of murdering Chinese nationals in Pakistan in order to destabilize relations between Pakistan and China. The parliamentarian, who has previously admitted membership in the banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (aka LeT) (aka LT), also called for Pakistan to end its "love affair" with the USA and declare jihad against America.
"We should follow the path of Iran and that of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrullah to resist US manipulation," he urged.
LeT's stated goal is to bomb India (especially the trains and train stations) until the predominantly Hindu nation of more than a billion people becomes Islamic. And during a foreign policy debate on Wednesday, Tanvir Hussain
stressed the need for announcing a 'jihad' against India and the US.

Syed also asked the government to recognise the Taliban as a force in Afghanistan.

"Be it the mountains of Waziristan, Kashmir or the land of Punjab, there should be only one slogan 'Al-Jihad, Al-Jihad, Al-Jihad'," he said.
Pakistan, if you recall, is supposed to be the USA's number one Asian ally in the GWOT. With allies like these, who needs friends?