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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 48

US Dilemma over Pakistan’s Emergency Rule

Sunday 25 November 2007, by Neha Kumar


General Musharraf declared Emergency rule on November 3, 2007 as a desperate attempt to remain in power. He has justified the declaration of Emergency by saying that the terrorist groups surround Pakistan and the active interference of the judiciary has made counterinsurgency operations difficult. Therefore, while addressing Pakistan he states that imposition of Emergency is important for dealing with terrorist groups who have entered into the “heart of Pakistan”. But soon after declaration of Emergency, 500 lawyers, judges, political party leaders, human rights activists and journalists were arrested and private television channels have been closed down. The Supreme Court of Pakistan was about to give its decision on whether the Constitution of Pakistan permits General Musharraf to be in power or not. As per the prevailing rule, a government employee cannot offer his candidature in elections for at least two years. Therefore, Musharraf declared Emergency to save him from the expected negative decision of the court and to continue in power.

This act has been criticised by the international community, especially by the US, whose interests are hit hard by the declaration of Emergency in Pakistan. The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, demanded “quick restoration of democracy in Pakistan”. Similarly, the White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndore, said that “this action is very disappointing” and he called General Musharraf to honour his earlier pledge to resign as an Army commander and hold free and fair elections before January 15,2008. The US is trying to put pressure on Pakistan by revising the economic aid given to them and by revising its decision of giving F-16 aircraft to Pakistan. This shows that the US is aware about the dangers of its regional policies and extremist takeover of the nuclear-armed state. The declaration of Emergency is a blow to the US efforts to restore democracy and stabilisation in Pakistan.

Pakistan is a close ally of the US, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US. The US has provided Pakistan approximately $ 10 billion since 2002 so as to compensate Pakistan’s loss during the war on terror in order to carry out modernisation of the Pakistan Army so as to deal with terrorist groups and to provide micro-economic stability. This money was used by Pakistan to have structural economic reforms and also to maintain conventional weapons’ parity with India. The US has repeatedly mentioned that it could not win the war on terror without the help of Pakistan. Pakistan has cooperated with the US in its war on terror by providing logistical facilities, sharing intelligence, and capturing and handling terrorists related to its Al-Qaeda group. Pakistan is also important to the US because it could help in restoration of stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan shares its border with Afghanistan and provides critical supply routes to the NATO in Afghanistan. A friendly govern-ment in Pakistan could thus help the US for any future military attack on Iran. Therefore, a friendly Pakistan would help the US in achieving its regional interests.

BUT the problem is that Emergency in Pakistan has provided chance to militant groups like the Taliban to take over Pakistan. Immediately after the declaration of Emergency, militants took over two police stations in the Swat valley of North West Frontier and hoisted their flags. This was followed by the takeover of the Matta, Khwaza-khela and Madayan towns. In these areas, the police has surrendered their weapons, vehicles and control of local police stations. The Taliban have hoisted their flags on government buildings and are also guarding important areas like the banks. This has raised the fear of militancy taking over and the imposition of Muslim Sharia law in Pakistan. These militant groups are against the US and its allies and would hamper every attempt of the US to seek its interests in the region.

Another fear is related to nuclear weapons. It is not clear how much safe nuclear weapons of Pakistan are if the civil war breaks out in Pakistan and deals a heavy blow to the Musharraf Government along with an Islamist takeover of the country. Bruce Riedel, the former senior Director for South Asia in the National Security Council State, mentions that “if you were to look around the world for where Al-Qaeda is going to find its bomb, it’s right in their backyard”. Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan network has already shown that the nuclear control policies in Pakistan are not as strict as those should be. The declaration of Emergency in Pakistan has opened up fears for the US—an American supported military dictator who is risking civil stability in a country and one who possesses nuclear weapons.

In such a situation, the US is left with few options. In order to pressurise Pakistan, the US is deciding to cut back the aid of $ 10 billion but analysts feel that reduction of aid increases the risk of civil war and the shattering of Pakistan. Military intervention for restoration of democracy in Pakistan is completely out of question as Pakistan is much big in size and population as compared to Iraq. The population of Pakistan is six times more than Iraq. The land area of Pakistan is twice that of Iraq. Therefore, it is very difficult to invade Pakistan and work for its restoration.

The US cannot afford to lose Musharraf and therefore stands for a political deal between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. The US sees a close ally in Musharraf who can support the US’ regional interests. The declaration of Emergency stands in opposition to the US principle of preserving democracy. The US is not in favour of taking any strong action which may lead to a turmoil in the situation rather than controlling it. It has no other alternative but to wait and watch till the situation turns favourable assuring a democratic turnabout in Pakistan. Washington is not inactive but is very careful in handling this difficult situation.

The author is a Research Officer, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi.

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