The Election Commission has postponed general elections, originally scheduled for January the 8th. Elections are now scheduled to be held on February the 18th, much to the chagrin of opposition leaders:
“It is risky,” said one Western diplomat, who would speak only anonymously, following diplomatic protocols. “Anything could happen because any straw or incident could ignite more violence or reaction against the government.”Condemning the violence and expressing his sorrow at the death of Ms. Bhutto, President Pervez Musharraf went on national television to explain the election delay and to dampen public anger. He acknowledged there was confusion over the way she died and said he had requested the assistance of a British team from Scotland Yard to help with a new and more thorough investigation.
“I myself want to go into its depths and want to tell the nation,” he said. “It is extremely important to bring the nation out of confusion. I am sure this investigation with the help of Scotland Yard will remove all doubts and suspicions.”
The postponement was the right decision, the president said, and he promised free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections, emphasizing the word peaceful.
The decision to delay the elections was immediately denounced by Ms. Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, now the co-chairman of her Pakistan Peoples Party, who had demanded that the voting proceed on time partly to capitalize on the expected sympathy vote. The other main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, called this week for President Musharraf to resign and for a neutral interim government to be appointed.
An alliance of smaller opposition parties, which is already boycotting elections, announced that it would start planning protests across the country, suspecting that President Musharraf would keep postponing the voting indefinitely.
As noted by the Times, Musharraf also announced that he was bowing to international pressure, requesting outside assistance from Scotland Yard in the investigation of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination:
The 30-minute speech was Mr Musharraf’s first major public address since Ms Bhutto’s death.
Mr Musharraf referred to “the pain and anger” of Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), especially in her home province of Sindh.
He paid tribute to his political opponent, saying: “I also feel the same sadness and anger – I respect the sentiments of the nation.”
He repeated official allegations that al-Qaeda was behind Ms Bhutto’s killing, and urged the media to “expose” pro-Taleban militant leaders who, he said, were orchestrating suicide attacks in Pakistan.
He said new evidence was coming to light but that expert advice was needed, and he thanked the British prime minister for accepting his request for assistance.
“This is a very significant investigation. All the confusion that has been created in the nation must be resolved,” Mr Musharraf said.
Of course, one wonders what investigators will have to work with, considering the fact that most forensic evidence has been (literally) washed down the drain.
Analyst Arif Rafiq is also skeptical:
Clearly, Musharraf is most moved by the deterioration of law and order, which he sees ultimately as an attack on his power. The murder of a two-time prime minister near the seat of the army, in his view, is now a peripheral matter. If it was truly primary, he would announce an independent commission, formed in concert with the opposition, to supervise the investigation.
Moreover, if he truly believes that Baitullah Mehsud is responsible for the murder of a former Pakistani prime minister, shouldn’t he have announced that the army would make a renewed, aggressive attempt to apprehend Mehsud, try him before a court of law, and–if convicted–execute him? Is not the murder of a former prime minister, in effect, an act of treason?
My brain seems to be stranded somewhere in 2007. So, for now, I’ll simply encourage everyone to check out this scathing op-ed by Tariq Ali on how the PPP is contributing to the suppression of democracy in Pakistan, and Dave’s subsequent commentary, also on deadly point. Hopefully I will soon be able to also contribute something with similar substance.
Many, probably most or nearly all, Pakistanis don’t see the “War on Terror” as struggle of “moderates” against “extremists.” They see it as a slogan to legitimate the military’s authoritarian control. Through the classic psychological mechanism of reducing cognitive dissonance, it is only a short jump from believing that the threat of al-Qaida is being manipulated to strengthen authoritarian rule, to believing that the threat of al-Qaida is a hoax perpetrated to strengthen authoritarian rule. A similar mechanism of reducing cognitive dissonance has led many Americans to accept propaganda that the “anti-American” Saddam Hussein and the “anti-American” Islamic Republic of Iran” must be allied with the “anti-American” al-Qaida.
The Bush administration’s terrible simplification has not only harmed U.S. security interests; it has also done perhaps irreparable damage to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some readers protest when I lead with the implications of such events for U.S. foreign policy, as if I didn’t think it worthwhile to mention the effects on those directly concerned. Believe me, I understand that Afghanistan, Pakistan, and all those other countries out there have purposes other than playing a role in scripts drafted in Washington.
But I am an American writing for a primarily American audience. I don’t think that Pakistanis are looking to me to explain their country to them. I am trying to use my experience and expertise, such as it is, to convince my compatriots, our allies, and the international organizations to which we belong, to change their relationships with other countries. Sometimes I appear on the media here (the US) or speak to non-specialist audiences. They always ask me to explain the implications for them.
There is a connection, however, between the foreign policy interests of the U.S. and the direct effect on, in this case, Pakistan. That is because the script writers in Washington impose their own terrible simplifications on the people whose behavior they are trying to affect, without understanding who those people are and what they want, often with disastrous consequences.
The current situation in Pakistan is a case in point. The Bush administration has decided that in the “Muslim world” a battle is going on between pro-American “moderates” and anti-American “extremists.” According to them, the “Muslim world” has a two-party system organized around how Muslims feel about America. In Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf is a “pro-American moderate.” Benazir Bhutto is a “pro-American moderate.” Therefore it is only logical (and in U.S. interests!) for the U.S. to realign Pakistan politics so that the “moderates” work together against the “extremists.”
This ignores a few problems. It is not just a random problem that the “pro-American moderate” institution headed by General Musharraf executed Benazir’s father and held her for years in solitary confinement. Despite Musharraf’s propagation of the PR slogan, “enlightened moderation,” the institution that he headed, and which put him in power, supported the Taliban unstintingly for many years and failed to deliver any results against al-Qaida when it would really have counted. This is the same institution that massacred hundreds of thousands of its own countrymen in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
The leaders of the Pakistan military, of which Musharraf is a typical example, do not see themselves primarily as “pro-American moderates” battling with “anti-American extremists.” They see themselves as responsible for building a powerful militarized state in Pakistan representing the heritage of Islamic empires in South and Central Asia against the threat from India and the selfish maneuvers of politicians (not necessarily in that order). In the course of doing so, they have enriched themselves and gained control of much of the economy and civilian administration. The military has always aspired to control the judiciary as well, and Musharraf has now restored to that institution the supine illegitimacy that it possessed under General Zia. This means of course that the use of institutional power for private gain by the military is legal (as the judiciary has no power over the military), while similar use of institutional power by civilians is “corruption.”
The military allies with the U.S. because that is the only way to get the weapons and money for their national security project and to prevent the U.S. from aligning with India. It has nothing to do with “moderation.” The “pro-American moderate” Pakistan military has used the “anti-American extremist” jihadis for its national security project.