Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf today at a press conference showed the US and the rest of the world that in Pakistani politics you can have your cake and eat it too.
Musharraf pledged elections in January, though the elections will be likely held while the state of emergency is still on, according to this report in CNN.
What that means, despite Musharraf’s pledge of having international observers, is that Musharraf and the army will ensure that only the pliant will get elected to the new parliament.
Musharraf and the army already control the Supreme Court and the Election Commission. Elections and parliamentary legitimacy is all he needs to complete this sordid charade.
The US and some European countries have been urging Musharraf to move towards democracy, but Musharraf demonstrated at the press conference on Sunday that he sets the agenda in Pakistan.
As US officials have often admitted, they need Musharraf and the Pakistani army in the war against terror, particularly as key terrorists are believed to be holed out in the country’s North-Western Frontier province.
Musharraf is playing that card against the US and Europe. He is well aware that the US will not try to upset a cozy relationship that it needs with the Pakistani army.
Where does that leave Benazir Bhutto ? Her Western sophistication and British education appeals to the West, but unlike Musharraf she does not control the army. In her craze to come to power, Bhutto will in the event, make some vociferous protests for the galleries, and then perhaps settle for a deal with the generals.
That leaves the small constituency of lawyers as the only consistent opposition to Musharraf and army rule. They are a strong moral force, but cannot for long counter the repression by the police and the army.
As the army battles its own people, the war against terror moves to the back-burner. Musharraf is in no hurry to flush out the terrorists. They are his trump card against US pressure.
The break down of civil society and political institutions may however help the jihadis. As the country’s civil society finds itself more distressed and impotent, the moderates may lose ideological leadership to the jihadis.