Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Pakistan Crucible

The situation in Pakistan remains seriously unstable, and while Musharraf vacillates between crackdown and appeasement, Benazir Bhutto remains under "house arrest" or "detention." Bhutto has been trying to claim the mantle of savior of Pakistani democracy, but her niece sees right through this.
The reality, however, is that there is no one better placed to benefit from emergency rule than she is. Along with the leaders of prominent Islamic parties, she has been spared the violent retributions of emergency law. Yes, she now appears to be facing seven days of house arrest, but what does that really mean? While she was supposedly under house arrest at her Islamabad residence last week, 50 or so of her party members were comfortably allowed to join her. She addressed the media twice from her garden, protected by police given to her by the state, and was not reprimanded for holding a news conference. (By contrast, the very suggestion that they might hold a news conference has placed hundreds of other political activists under real arrest, in real jails.)

Ms. Bhutto's political posturing is sheer pantomime. Her negotiations with the military and her unseemly willingness until just a few days ago to take part in Musharraf's regime have signaled once and for all to the growing legions of fundamentalists across South Asia that democracy is just a guise for dictatorship.

It is widely believed that Ms. Bhutto lost both her governments on grounds of massive corruption. She and her husband, a man who came to be known in Pakistan as "Mr. 10%," have been accused of stealing more than $1 billion from Pakistan's treasury. She is appealing a money-laundering conviction by the Swiss courts involving about $11 million. Corruption cases in Britain and Spain are ongoing.

It was particularly unappealing of Ms. Bhutto to ask Musharraf to bypass the courts and drop the many corruption cases that still face her in Pakistan. He agreed, creating the odiously titled National Reconciliation Ordinance in order to do so. Her collaboration with him was so unsubtle that people on the streets are now calling her party, the Pakistan People's Party, the Pervez People's Party. Now she might like to distance herself, but it's too late.
Bhutto is not the savior. She's almost as unsavory as Musharraf, and her dabbling alternatively with Musharraf and with the Islamists is just as dangerous.

The Pakistani people have few options, with the Islamists on one side hoping to turn the country into a theocracy, and Bhutto's party isn't pure by any stretch of the imagination. Musharraf continues to head the country, but he doesn't lead - and he certainly doesn't have control over the entire country either. His military keeps losing ground to the Taliban and Islamists in the far reaches of the country, despite all the military aid proffered by the US.

The Pakistani military's failures are likely to spill over into Afghanistan from the NWFP, which means bad news for the Afghan people as well. The situation in Swat isn't much better.

Musharraf says that he'll step down as military leader by the end of the month. I don't trust that to happen, as Musharraf is into political expediency that enables him to retain power more than he is into the rule of law or preserving his country against the threat posed by Islamist fundamentalism.

One of the few unifying forces in Pakistan in cricket. The arrest of noted cricket player Imran Khan may be a very dangerous move. He was arrested by the police after he appeared at a student rally against President Musharraf’s move to impose emergency rule.
Thousands of students wearing black arm-bands shouted anti-Musharraf slogans as Khan was taken away.

Some religious students in the university had detained Khan, enabling the police to whisk him away. The move was a setback for Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto, who Tuesday said she would scrap a proposed power-sharing agreement with Musharraf, and join forces with the opposition. Bhutto has also been placed under house arrest in Lahore.

Opposition parties say police have detained around 15,000 supporters since Musharraf imposed emergency rule and clamped down on the judiciary and media.

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