Pakistan: Musharraf goes for broke

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has ignored the urgent calls, not to mention the demands, from his chief sponsors, the U.S. and Europe (as represented by Britain and Germany) to lift the state of emergency, restore constitutional order and civilian rule in the country.

Moreover, he took another radical step effectively aimed at strengthening the state of emergency. His administration moved the parliamentary election to be held in January to February, thus giving Musharraf an extra month to put a legal seal on his next presidency.

Under the constitution, the election campaign for the Pakistani parliament officially begins on November 15, the day the elected head of state is inaugurated. On the eve of that day the incumbent president issues a special decree dissolving the Senate, the National Assembly and the provincial national assemblies. Simultaneously, he forms an interim government, which is given two months to organize and hold the elections. Thus for two months the president-elect wields unchallenged power in the country.

The current incumbent president of Pakistan is Pervez Musharraf, and he won the last election even though the Supreme Court has yet to declare the results legitimate. The opposition claims that Musharraf had no right to announce his candidacy before taking off his military uniform. There is obvious disappointment in Pakistani society about the violation of democratic freedoms. However, the conflict can hardly be seen as anything more than local.

How strong are Musharraf's positions and what is the balance of political forces in Pakistan? Experts think that Pervez Musharraf is a strong proponent of real politics, getting the maximum mileage out of the current situation for the sake of long-term stability in the country. The same holds true for his imposition of the state of emergency. On the ground, the state of emergency has not upset the pace of life in the country. If the market is taken as the measure of social, economic and political stability, then experts note that the Karachi stock exchange reacted by only a 5% drop on a single day before the market bounced back.

The political situation in Pakistan is quite paradoxical. On the one hand, Musharraf faces opposition from the legislators and opposition parties and on the other hand from Islamic extremists. But while the former demand the creation of a purely civilian presidency, Islamic fundamentalists are unhappy about the secular foundations of the government. Musharraf has been caught between a rock and hard place.

Benazir Bhutto, ex-premier and leader of the Pakistan People's Party, who returned to Pakistan after spending eight years abroad, is trying to head up the opposition seeking Musharraf's resignation as the army commander-in-chief. To press this demand Bhutto intends to bring hundreds of thousands of her supporters into the streets for indefinite protests. In the current situation, which teeters on the brink of mass riots in a number of cities, such a move on the part of Bhutto hardly follows common sense. And it is ambiguous with regard to Musharraf, who allowed her to return to Pakistan in the first place. Also, he did it over opposition from the Supreme Court that has no intention of withdrawing the charges of corruption against her that could carry a 20-year prison sentence. Even among her supporters Benazir Bhutto is noted for her penchant "to fish in troubled waters." From the authorities' point of view, putting her under house arrest is absolutely logical.

Pervez Musharraf of course runs a serious risk by introducing tough measures, but the risk appears to be justified. At stake is the country's political stability. The current situation in Pakistan can easily escalate into a civil war and, as usual, the outcome would be another military coup. The U.S. and Europe are well aware of this.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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