Saturday, November 3, 2007

Crisis grips Pakistan; Musharraf declares emergency rule

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been waiting for word from the nation’s Supreme Court about his grip on power. Today, he stopped waiting and declared emergency rule.

Musharraf issued a provisional constitutional order proclaiming the emergency and suspending the nation’s constitution, according to a statement read on state television.

The Supreme Court declared the state of emergency illegal, claiming Musharraf had no power to suspend the constitution, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry told CNN.

Shortly afterward, Chaudhry was expelled as chief justice, his office told CNN. Troops who came to Chaudhry’s office said arrangements were being made for his replacement.

It was the second time Chaudhry was removed from his post. His ousting by Musharraf in May prompted massive protests, and he was later reinstated.

In Islamabad, troops entered the Supreme Court and were surrounding the judges’ homes, according to CNN’s Syed Mohsin Naqvi.

Aitzaz Ahsan, a leading Pakistani attorney and president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, was arrested at his home. A former interior minister, Ahsan represented Chaudry the first time he was forced to leave his post.

The Constitution has been suspended, and independent media outlets are off the air.

Atrios noted, “No one could have predicted that an unelected dictator who took power in a military coup would behave just like that.”

I was thinking along the same lines. Remember, Musharraf seized power in a military take-over, and later held an election in which his name was the only one on the ballot. President Bush hailed the Musharraf government as a “democracy.”

I’m also reminded of Newsweek’s recent cover story.

Today no other country on earth is arguably more dangerous than Pakistan. It has everything Osama bin Laden could ask for: political instability, a trusted network of radical Islamists, an abundance of angry young anti-Western recruits, secluded training areas, access to state-of-the-art electronic technology, regular air service to the West and security services that don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. (Unlike in Iraq or Afghanistan, there also aren’t thousands of American troops hunting down would-be terrorists.) Then there’s the country’s large and growing nuclear program. “If you were to look around the world for where Al Qaeda is going to find its bomb, it’s right in their backyard,” says Bruce Riedel, the former senior director for South Asia on the National Security Council.

The conventional story about Pakistan has been that it is an unstable nuclear power, with distant tribal areas in terrorist hands. What is new, and more frightening, is the extent to which Taliban and Qaeda elements have now turned much of the country, including some cities, into a base that gives jihadists more room to maneuver, both in Pakistan and beyond.

In recent months, as Musharraf has grown more and more unpopular after eight years of rule, Islamists have been emboldened. The homegrown militants who have hidden Al Qaeda’s leaders since the end of 2001 are no longer restricted to untamed mountain villages along the border. These Islamist fighters now operate relatively freely in cities like Karachi—a process the U.S. and Pakistani governments call “Talibanization.” Hammered by suicide bombers and Iraq-style IEDs and reluctant to make war on its countrymen, Pakistan’s demoralized military seems incapable of stopping the jihadists even in the cities.

And now, there’s martial law. Stay tuned.

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