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November 4, 2007
Massive Crackdown on Musharraf Opponents
According to some reports, up to 1500 democracy and human rights activists as well as lawyers and jurists opposed to the military rule of President Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan have been arrested.
Prime Minister Shaukut Aziz has admitted to 500 arrests:
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the extraordinary measures would remain in place "as long as it is necessary." He also said parliamentary elections could be postponed up to a year, but no such decision had been made. The arrests of so many regime opponents gives the lie to Musharraf's claim that increased terrorism is the reason for imposing martial law. In fact, while terrorism has increased since Musharraf's attacks on Taliban strongholds in the tribal areas, the real reason for this action is his hold on power was slipping:
Aziz also said that up to 500 opposition activists had been arrested in the last 24 hours.
Among those detained were Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; cricket star-turned politician, Imran Khan; Asma Jehangir, chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; and Hamid Gul, former chief of the main intelligence agency and a staunch critic of Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led war on terror.
The move appeared to be an effort by General Musharraf to reassert his fading power in the face of growing opposition from the country’s Supreme Court, political parties and hard-line Islamists. Pakistan’s Supreme Court had been expected to rule within days on the legality of General Musharraf’s re-election last month as the country’s president. The emergency act, which analysts and opposition leaders said was more a declaration of martial law, also boldly defied the Bush administration, which had repeatedly urged General Musharraf to avoid such a path and instead move toward democracy. Washington has generously backed the general, sending him more than $10 billion in aid since 2001, mostly for the military. Now the administration finds itself in the bind of having to publicly castigate the man it has described as one of its closest allies in fighting terrorism.Having invested so much in Musharraf, we have little choice but to continue to back him, hoping he can get control of the situation before the unthinkable happens; a takeover by extremist elements:
This emergency declaration was made as the continuing growth of power and influence of the Taliban has turned the area of Swat into a mini-state within Pakistan, as Pakistan army and police are surrendering to Taliban, and as the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. (NWFP) government has publicly offered to meet the demands of the Taliban to enforce Shariah throughout the Swat area. If Musharraf is serious about hanging on to power, the crackdown has just begun. It is likely that he will face street demonstrations the likes of which have not been seen in Pakistan in a generation. And this could prove fatal to the President as the Army takes a dim view of any officer who puts it in a bad light: Late Saturday evening, Islamabad and other major cities were quiet. But analysts said that General Musharraf’s fate would play out on Pakistan’s streets over the next three to four days.
This grim news also comes after repeated polls taken among the Pakistani public which shows between 60 to 76 percent of those polled favor the growth of Islamist Shariah law throughout Pakistan, as well as news reports of growth of Pakistan Taliban armaments and tolerance of Taliban in major cities within Pakistan.
This emergency declaration also comes less than a week after a suicide bomber attack near the heavily-fortified Pakistani Army HQ in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, which houses President Musharraf's office. Pakistan's internal security has been challenged in the past several months with a continuing series of suicide bombings and attacks, including one on Benazir Bhutto's convoy last month that killed 145 people.
If Ms. Bhutto’s party and other opposition groups are able to mount nationwide street protests, the general could be forced from power. In the past, Pakistan’s army has ousted military leaders when they felt their actions were damaging to the army as an institution. “If there are street agitations and a lot of people are arrested, he’ll have problems,” Mr. Rizvi said. At the same time, Ms. Bhutto’s political career is at stake as well, Mr. Rizvi said. If she fails to lead protests, she will lose legitimacy as an opposition leader, he said. And if she tries and produces a paltry turnout, she could find herself in jail or exile.And just in case you may have forgotten what's at stake, Pakistan has 70 nuclear weapons in its arsenal.
The problem with replacing Musharraf is who would be thrown up in his place. Currently, Musharraf has designated General Ashfaq Kayani to take over after he resigns as Chief of Staff of the army. The problem arises if there is a coup it is not likely that a Musharraf man would be elevated to that position. It is more likely that a Musharraf opponent - someone who would be anti-western and pro-Taliban - would succeed him. And the enormous problems that would cause the United States are almost too complex and terrible to contemplate.
About all we can do is stand by and watch as the drama plays itself out over the next few days.