Pakistan: Emergency Rule or Return to Democracy?
6 Jun 2007
President Pervez Musharraf, facing his most serious challenge in nearly eight years of authoritarian rule, is likely to try to retain power despite growing opposition. Rumours abound in Pakistan that he will declare a state of emergency, which would suspend fundamental rights and in effect mean martial law. Given an increasingly assertive opposition following his 9 March 2007 decision to remove the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, it will be impossible for the president and his military backers to maintain the status quo. Western friends of Pakistan, most influentially the U.S., can tip the balance by delivering a clear message that emergency rule is unacceptable and Pakistan should return to democratic government by holding free, fair and democratic elections by the end of the year.
The worst scenario is the imposition of rule by emergency decree and the use of force to suppress the expected massive opposition. This would immediately produce chaos and violence and ultimately increase the role of Islamist groups and, if Washington supports the move, cause further anti-U.S. feeling.
The best case is a transition to democratic rule through free and fair elections that would marginalise extremist forces and reduce the growing tensions in society. This could occur if the military feels it is in its interests to pull back from direct rule, as it has in the past.
The U.S. should lead a move by the international community, including the European Union and Japan, to urge a peaceful transition to democratic rule by:
strongly and publicly warning against any imposition of emergency rule or any measures to stifle constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech, association, assembly and movement;
pressing General Musharraf to refrain from any political interference in the case against the Chief Justice being heard by the Supreme Court; and
urging the Pakistani military to allow a return to democracy through free and fair elections, including allowing the return of exiled political leaders.
Islamabad/Washington/Brussels, 6 June 2007