Desperate times call for desperate measures. And Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is clearly a desperate man as he walks the high wire, trying to be seen acting decisively against extremism on one hand, while following the politics of expediency to survive on the other. The General’s move to implement Emergency rule in Pakistan was not unexpected. He had openly considered this option a couple of months ago, when the Supreme Court overruled his suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on allegations of abuse of power. So it is hardly surprising that he decided to impose martial law at a time when Pakistan’s Supreme Court is — or was — hearing the case about his eligibility to continue as President.
The court had stayed him from taking oath till it delivered its verdict, which, from all accounts, almost certainly would have invalidated his re-election last month.
That apart, at least two other factors must have forced the General’s hand. One, although his party, the PML-Q, had struck a deal with Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, the massive turnout of support for her in Karachi must have made him nervous about the outcome of any poll. Ms Bhutto’s popularity is defying gravity after corruption charges against her were dropped, which clearly gives her more bargaining power with the General. Two, as the General himself admitted on Saturday, clamping khaki rule was the only way to arrest the worsening law and order situation in the country.
True, it is unprecedented in Pakistan’s history for a political crisis to be compounded by so much violence, which has killed nearly a thousand people since last July. The morale of Pakistan’s army is reportedly at an all-time low as it fights a losing battle with pro-Taliban militants. But then, it is unlikely that military muscle alone will solve the complex problems facing Pakistan, where growing unrest suggests public frustration against the military regime. Never mind if a real alternative to the entrenchment of the military in Pakistan’s civil society is yet to emerge. While a destabilised nuclear backyard is bad news for the entire region, New Delhi should be particularly concerned about the clear and present danger of Islamabad’s military rulers trying to divert attention by exporting jehadis across the Indo-Pak border.