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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 November 2007, 17:56 GMT
Musharraf takes Pakistan to the brink
Ahmed Rashid, guest journalist and writer on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, reflects on Pakistan's deepening political crisis.

President Pervez Musharraf's imposition of a state of emergency and draconian crackdown on civil society and opposition parties is in danger of leading to the unravelling of key institutions of the Pakistan state.

Militants in Swat district 2 November 2007
Militants have been defying the government for months

The present political crisis and the failure to halt the expansion of the Pakistani Taleban are now in danger of being dwarfed by a far deeper structural crisis that may take the country years to recover from.

At risk is the constitution, the independence of the judiciary, a demoralised army and bureaucracy, a collapsing economy and acute polarisation between the army and the political parties and civil society.

The army was once considered the single united institution of state keeping Pakistan together.

Now it is now in danger of becoming the cause for the unravelling of the state faster than anyone could have imagined before President Musharraf imposed the emergency on 3 November.

Judges targeted

Many fear that Gen Musharraf's emergency rule was not just a temporary measure to curtail protests and the judicial activism of the Supreme Court, but that he may be intending to reshape the constitution and install a presidential system of government.

The real danger for the state is the demoralisation in the army

Gen Musharraf has also clearly identified an independent judiciary as the army's worst enemy.

He devoted much of a recent press conference and a briefing to foreign diplomats to vilifying the former 17 member bench of the Supreme Court.

Most of them did not take the new oath of allegiance and are now under house arrest. At least 60 of the 97 High Court judges in the four provinces did not take the oath either.

In the past year or more the judiciary has, for the first time, ceased to be the handmaiden of the military and come out for constitutionalism and its own independence.

Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry
The chief justice was sacked under the emergency

The army has never faced such a situation before and is determined to place the judiciary back in its box by appointing new judges.

Meanwhile the courts are paralysed due to the arrest of thousands of lawyers.

At the same time the army is creating a militarised legal system at odds with the constitution and the judiciary.

The army has amended the 1952 Army Act so that civilians can now be tried for treason in military courts.

Some 18 politicians and lawyers are already scheduled to be tried in these courts. Army officers acting as judges will give more cause for hatred of the military.

The reinstatement of the former Supreme Court bench is now a key demand of civil society, but the army does not agree. The decimation of the judiciary by the army in this manner is certain to have profoundly negative consequences for the future.

Tensions in the military

The bureaucracy has long been in silent revolt against Gen Musharraf as hundreds of senior civilian jobs in ministries and state corporations have gone to army officers.

Pakistani soldiers on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border
Morale in the military has taken a series of knocks

Many top bureaucrats have been made to take lesser assignments.

There are signs that many bureaucrats in the districts are no longer cooperating with the military or the emergency rule.

Although the police have been used to brutalise protesters, senior officers have privately told political leaders and human rights officials that they are being forced to carry out orders.

Senior military intelligence officers have been posted alongside police units to boost their morale and make sure the police crack the heads of protesters.

Police morale is already abysmally low because the force has been deliberately targeted by suicide bombers from the Pakistani Taleban.

If the situation worsens and the police are asked to fire upon demonstrators, especially in Punjab province, it could well be that many will refuse to comply.

However the real danger for the state is the demoralisation in the army which has failed to combat the spread north and east from the Afghan border area of the Pakistani Taleban.

In the Swat valley - which was the country's largest tourist resort - - the militants now hold complete sway. In recent days they have penetrated large cities such as Mardan and Kohat close to Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province.

Hundreds of police, paramilitary and regular soldiers have surrendered to the militants. The army is now trying to save face by once again negotiating local peace deals with the different heavily armed militias that make up the Pakistani Taleban.

To many Pakistanis and much of the international community, the army presently appears rudderless in its fight against the Taleban.

That is perhaps not surprising as the resources of the army and intelligence services are heavily involved in implementing the state of emergency.

It is hard to see how the army high command can offer any coherent strategy to combat the extremists, when it is preoccupied with saving President Musharraf and the present political system.

Economic fears

As for the economy, it had been growing at around 7% since 2001 when Pakistan began to receive lavish aid from abroad. But now it is in a tail spin.

Gen Musharraf on TV
President Musharraf says he is acting in the interests of democracy

Economic activity is grinding to a halt, inflation is worsening and there is widespread hoarding of key food items like sugar and wheat.

The government may well have to jack up fuel prices substantially as the international price of oil soars.

The business community has been a key supporter of Gen Musharraf and army rule. But now businessmen are afraid of deepening instability unless the army gives way.

The Pakistani business community has deep links in the Gulf and Europe.

So there is a fear that there could be a sudden flight of capital as happened in the 1970s and again in the 1980s.

This time round it would be more difficult for that capital to come back.

Unlike the present political crises in other developing countries, Pakistan does have strongly developed state structures, a powerful public belief in the rule of law and constitutionalism and a vibrant legal system.

A desire for democracy is already deeply ingrained in the public.

It is dangerous for the army to ignore these foundations of the Pakistani state and put at risk the very institutions that have helped keep such a diverse and multi-ethnic country united.

By introducing emergency rule, Gen Musharraf could well have ensured his own political demise. He is also putting at risk all that has been achieved since Pakistan was founded 60 years ago.

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore. He is the author of three books including Taliban and, most recently, Jihad. He has covered Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia for the past 25 years and also writes for the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Daily Telegraph and The Wall Street Journal.


Here is a selection of your comments

Yet another spot on analysis by Ahmad Rashid. After seven years in power, Gen Musharraf has failed to rid the country of terrorism. On the contrary, we have seen an massive increase in militancy during his regime. Yet, there are those in the West who think he is doing a great job. I wonder what their measures are?
Mohammed, UK

This is yet another article of empty rhetoric from a writer who has an established record of anti-Musharraf articles. He doesn't care to mention what Musharraf has done for the country, a sincere testament to how he has stayed in power almost entirely supported by the Pakistani people.
Imran, Canada

I think, at this point of time, you cannot introduce western style democracy in Pakistan. Early election under emergency rule is the best solution in order to avoid violence between political parties and loose innocent lives. A genuine caretaker government, accepted by all political parties, and international observers must ensure free and fair election by mid-January. The possibility of vote rigging would be substantially reduced under emergency rule, which could be withdrawn as soon as the election is over.
Ahmed Nazimuddin, Belgium

Pakistan needs a stable constitution and a truly independent non-political judiciary if it is to create stable and strong democracy.
Furhan Majid, UK

It is good to read some intelligent analysis on Pakistan, too few commentators seem to have any understanding of the country. It is remarkable how Musharraf has gone from a 70% approval rating two years ago amongst his own people to this mess. Democracy is a term frequently mentioned as being suspended, but has it ever existed? Can democracy ever truly exist where there is less than 50% literacy and where large swathes of the country are under tribal rule and previously elections have seen tribal leaders complete the polling cards?
Andrew Allen, UK

I assure you that majority of the Pakistani population is more interested in the march towards economic prosperity and security than to listen to doomsday scenarios. Give Pakistan a break please.
Ali Mohammad, Pakistan

By writing such articles you are pandering to sensationalism which may get you published but are you doing the right thing? Your accounts paint a picture as if we are in Iraq or Afghanistan - the situation is nowhere near as dreary as the one you paint and everyone living in Pakistan knows it.
Farhan, Pakistan

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