PAKISTAN’S GENERAL Musharraf has defended the imposition of martial law saying it would continue indefinitely, although in a bid to keep the US and British governments on board he indicated that parliamentary elections will be held on 9 January 2008.
Musharraf has, however, refused to give a date for stepping down as military leader, something which US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has demanded.
Commonwealth leaders, with the backing of Gordon Brown, have given Musharraf a ten-day deadline to reinstate the constitution, release political prisoners, drop his military uniform and hold ‘free and fair’ elections.
But tellingly, Musharraf’s announcement of elections appeared to satisfy US president George Bush who said he supported martial law to fight al-Qa’ida terrorism. It is, of course, the US that provides billions in economic and military aid to Pakistan.
But it appears that any power-sharing deal hoped for in the West between Musharraf and PPP opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has, for now, come unstuck, with Benazir saying ‘no more talks’ and calling on Musharraf to step down as president.
Since the enactment of martial law on 3 November thousands of political opponents, lawyers and even senior members of the judiciary, have been arrested. It seems that in order to cling to power Musharraf has struck blows against the main secular and Islamic opposition parties, and the normally tame media and judiciary.
At the same time the Pakistan military have been attempting to suppress political Islamists in the North West Frontier province bordering neighbouring Afghanistan.
This is the second time that General Musharraf, as chief of the army, has carried though such measures. The first time was on 12 October 1999 when he removed Nawaz Sharif from government.
There has been tension between the military-dominated government and the senior judiciary since March – a split at the top of society. But it took a decisive turn on 3 November when the Chief Justice and other Supreme Court judges considered to be anti-government were removed.
Khalid Bhatti of the Socialist Movement, Pakistan (the Socialist Party’s counterpart) said of Musharraf:
“It can be safely said that this new declaration of martial law will prove to be one of his gravest errors of judgment – a sorry indication that nothing has been learnt from his past mistakes.
“It has already aroused the disapproval of his closest imperialist allies externally and will further fracture an already weakened federation within Pakistan.
“It will alienate those with severe grievances against central government, such as in the Tribal areas and Baluchistan. It will throw what little credibility the government had – internally and externally – down into a very deep abyss.
“These latest actions of the Musharraf regime will provoke the masses; once their anger explodes into decisive action, the regime will collapse like a house of cards.”