Friday, November 16, 2007

Situation in Pakistan Unchanged

Musharraf has promised that scheduled elections will go forward as promised, only they will do so under his emergency rule. He continues to insist in the face of pressure from the U.S. government that the crackdown was necessary:

"Anyone who breaks the law of the land will be back in jail or restricted," Musharraf said. "We don't want anyone in agitation mode and I will tell Negroponte that Pakistan comes first, and there are certain realities on the ground -- extremism and terrorism -- that made me decide to go with emergency law," he said in an interview at the presidential residency.

Of course, that's not exactly true:

As inconspicuous as it might be in a nation of 160 million people, the takeover of the small Alpuri district headquarters this week was considered a particular embarrassment for General Musharraf. It showed how the militants could still thumb their noses at the Pakistani Army.

In fact, local officials and Western diplomats said, there is little evidence that the 12-day-old emergency decree has increased the government’s leverage in fighting the militants, or that General Musharraf has used the decree to take any extraordinary steps to combat them.

Instead, it has proved more of a distraction, they said, forcing General Musharraf to concentrate on his own political survival, even as the army starts its first offensive operation since the Nov. 3 decree.

And so it goes, from our primary ally against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. American officials have begun to seriously consider the idea that Musharraf will not survive this crisis, a notion that's not entirely unpleasant:

If General Musharraf is forced from power, they say, it would most likely be in a gentle push by fellow officers, who would try to install a civilian president and push for parliamentary elections to produce the next prime minister, perhaps even Ms. Bhutto, despite past strains between her and the military.

Many Western diplomats in Islamabad said they believed that even a flawed arrangement like that one was ultimately better than an oppressive and unpopular military dictatorship under General Musharraf.

Unfortunately, replacing Musharraf does not necessarily mean that the Pakistani army will instantly go about the work of battling Islamic militants in the west. There are those in the military and intelligence services who find the militants to have their uses, and would be unwilling to push them harder than necessary to placate us and other western powers. Still, such a situation would be preferable to the present one.

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