Charlie has started this post no less than three times over the last 36 hours. And the story just keeps evolving....
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency yesterday, days before a Supreme Court ruling was to be announced determining his eligibility to stand in upcoming elections. (Emergency powers include the ability to dissolve parliament and postpone or cancel elections.)
Security forces were reported to have rounded up about 500 opposition party figures, lawyers and human rights advocates Sunday, and about a dozen privately television news stations remained off the air. International broadcasters, including the BBC and CNN, were also cut.
Lawyers and human rights advocates aren't usually the first targets in security sweeps. That is, unless you're more afraid of losing elections than fighting insurgents:
While Musharraf cast the emergency-rule decision as necessary to restore order and stop the spread of extremism after a bloody period over the summer and fall, even Musharraf aides conceded that the move was tied directly to a pending Supreme Court case. The case could have disqualified Musharraf from seeking a new term, and the government had become convinced that Musharraf would not win, aides said.
The question on the US side is: what now? The NYT coverage offers more questions than answers. Secretary Rice will "review" US aid to Pakistan, but probably won't cut much of it. (The word you're thinking of here is "feckless.") There may be good realpolitik reasons not to care that Musharraf has essentially canceled elections and perpetrated what amounts to a second military coup. But what happens when the Pakistani army is asked to fire against its own in Islamabad and NWFP? How long will they remain loyal to Musharraf then?
Along these lines, one Pakistan watcher offers this "wish-list" of in-country information:
First, I'd want the names of every officer who served in the Afghan or Kashmir bureau of Pakistani intelligence in the last 25 years, and then I'd want to know where they are now. I'd also like better intelligence on the political sympathies of the Pakistani military than the usual "beard count" done at the war college in Quetta every year. Third, I'd want a long, hard look at their personnel reliability profiling system for the nuclear arsenal. And last, I'd want to GIVE them Permissive Action Links.
The US currently backs Musharraf because of his efforts against AQ/Taliban militants. If his current anti-democratic actions encourage a future opportunist coup against him, maybe we'd be better off taking a hard line now, rather than waiting for the other shoe to drop. Our other option--backing him to the hilt--doesn't really improve his legitimacy, nor ours.
We're not quite in the nightmare Pakistan scenario many have envisioned, but at this point, it's not hard to see how we get there.
PS If anyone has rumint on Pakistani PALs, Charlie would love to hear it.