For anyone marinated in the history of Pakistan yesterday’s decision by the military to impose a state of emergency comes as no surprise. Martial law in this country has become an antibiotic: in order to obtain the same results one has to keep doubling the doses. This was a coup within a coup.
General Pervez Musharraf ruled the country with a civilian façade, but his power base was limited to the army. And it was the army Chief of Staff who declared the emergency, suspended the 1973 constitution, took all non-government TV channels off the air, jammed the mobile phone networks, surrounded the Supreme Court with paramilitary units, dismissed the Chief Justice, arrested the president of the bar association and inaugurated yet another shabby period in the country’s history.
Why? They feared that a Supreme Court judgment due next week might make it impossible for Musharraf to contest the elections. The decision to suspend the constitution was taken a few weeks ago. According to good sources, contrary to what her official spokesman has been saying (“she was shocked”), Benazir Bhutto was informed and chose to leave the country before it happened. (Whether her “dramatic return” was also pre-arranged remains to be seen.) Intoxicated by the incense of power, she might now discover that it remains as elusive as ever. If she ultimately supports the latest turn it will be an act of political suicide. If she decides to dump the general (she accused him last night of breaking his promises), she will be betraying the confidence of the US state department, which pushed her this way.