Musharraf’s Last Act?

Desperate to hold onto power, Pervez Musharraf has discarded Pakistan’s constitutional framework and declared a state of emergency. His goal? To stifle the independent judiciary and free media. Artfully, though shamelessly, he has tried to sell this action as an effort to bring about stability and help fight the war on terror more effectively. Nothing could be further from the truth. If Pakistan’s history is any indicator, his decision to impose martial law may prove to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

General Musharraf appeared on the national scene on October 12, 1999, when he ousted an elected government and announced an ambitious “nation-building” project. Many Pakistanis, disillusioned with Pakistan’s political class, remained mute, thinking that he might deliver. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America brought Musharraf into the international limelight as he agreed to ditch the Taliban and support the United States-led war on terror.

Musharraf clamped down on some religious militants operating inside Pakistan and also on those fighting Indian forces in Kashmir. As a result, Pakistan was rewarded with American financial assistance and arms. In furtherance of his re-alignment, Musharraf sent the Pakistani army into the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan for the first time since Pakistan’s independence. Operations there against Taliban and al-Qaeda forces brought mixed results.

Although the US viewed Musharraf as an agent of change, he has never achieved domestic political legitimacy, and his policies were seen as rife with contradictions. For example, he made alliances with Islamist political forces (who in 2004 voted for constitutional changes legitimizing his position and actions). At the same time, he sidelined moderate, mainstream political leaders while claiming that he stood for “enlightened moderation.” A series of ill-planned military operations in the tribal areas further complicated the situation in the volatile border region.