Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has gone ahead and declared a state of emergency on Saturday in Pakistan. Troops have surrounded the country’s Supreme Court building and physically removed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry who was earlier in the day expelled from the job. The other justices of the court are expected to be asked to take a new oath in favor of the President.
The proclamation of emergency rule, which according to some analysts is closer to martial law with the army in full control, should come as an embarrassment to the US which views Pakistan as a close ally in its war against terror.
The declaration also came in direct defiance of warnings by top American officials, reports the New York Times. The senior American military commander in the Middle East, Admiral William J. Fallon, told General Musharraf and his top generals in a meeting in Islamabad on Friday that emergency rule would jeopardize the extensive American financial support for the Pakistani military, according to the report
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has personally intervened twice in the past four months to try to keep General Musharraf from imposing emergency rule, including telephoning him at 2 a.m. Pakistani time in August. Today, while traveling to Turkey for an Iraq security conference, she reinforced the message, saying, “I think it would be quite obvious that the United States wouldn’t be supportive of extra-constitutional means,” New York Times reports.
Don’t expect Musharraf however to reverse martial law under US pressure. For one, US pressure matters little to the President who has the support of the Pakistani army which sees Musharraf as the best way to perpetuate its control. Apart from some few violent protests, the country will settle down to another long spell of martial law.
Which should suit the US well. Although it advocates democracy in its demagoguery, and will likely issue protests, as required by protocol, at the new turn of events in Pakistan, don’t expect US sanctions on Pakistan or its military.
The US at this point needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs the US, and Musharraf factored that into his calculations. The epicenter of the war against terror is Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, where Osama Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding. So the military in Pakistan will continue to demand more arms from the US and will get them, even if some of those arms are turned against the Pakistani people.
The US has also in the past been quite comfortable dealing with Pakistani military dictators, much to the chagrin of politicians in democratic India who believed that the two democracies should be naturally allied.
This time after a few protests for the galleries, Musharraf and the US will be back to business soon.
That however will be a big mistake for the US to make. The alienation of civil society in Pakistan under Musharraf’s rule, which is likely to get exacerbated under martial law, will only play into the hands of the Muslim fundamentalists who will now start actively recruiting among disaffected Pakistani youth. Martial law in Pakistan will only accelerate the “Talibanization” of Pakistan’s civil society.
At that point, Musharraf may once again need the US very badly. Like the Shah of Iran he will need some place to escape to. It is unfortunate that the US never learns from its past mistakes.