MAN AT ARMS
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- Published 6.11.07
When it comes to Pervez Musharraf and his Pakistan, one cannot decide which of the two descriptions — predictably shocking or shockingly predictable — fits better. Perhaps both are equally apt. There was never a shred of doubt that the general would go to any extreme to keep his hold on power. In fact, a national emergency has been a frequently considered option ever since a recalcitrant judiciary and escalating terrorist violence started pushing the general to the brink from early this year. If Pakistan has not had an emergency declared earlier it owes that to the remarkable self-control of its civilian president, who has allowed himself to be drawn into polite talk about the return of democracy and even into an agreement with an exiled prime minister to further the process. But enough is enough. A dictator cannot be expected to stand and watch when a progressive judiciary threatens to show him the door. While imposing nothing short of martial law on the country, an apparently tearful president in a national broadcast, quite predictably, put the blame on the judiciary and the media for forcing his hand. Perhaps Mr Musharraf could have saved himself the excuse. The head of an army that owns much of Pakistan and has the country’s nuclear power in its safe-keeping does not need any such to keep the political system captive. This truth has not changed in all the years that Pakistan has been independent. And it is unlikely to change now that Mr Musharraf has once again clambered on to the top of things.
Mr Musharraf has fooled none by his rhetoric, certainly not his own people whose desire for democracy has so inconvenienced him of late. It is unfortunate that the elitist stranglehold on power should continue to defeat that will, as do the narrow strategic concerns of the outsiders who watch the show from afar. If Mr Musharraf has had the confidence to replay his 1999 coup and do a volte face on his much-publicized plans for a democratic vote, it is because he knows that he continues to be indispensable to the West, whose fears about Pakistan’s nuclear power falling into rebel hands has made it turn a blind eye to the general’s failings. It can at best force the president into keeping his word to a lady, but not much else. Meanwhile, Mr Musharraf can go back to his tried and tested strategy of selectively using and defeating the extremists who assail the borders and the ‘heart’ of Pakistan.