Pervez Musharraf may have had enough of pretending to be a democrat at heart.
A MORE appropriate commemoration would be unimaginable. On the threshold of Pakistan’s 60th birthday, on August 14th, rumours abounded that General Pervez Musharraf, the president, was poised to declare a state of emergency. On August 9th the general’s aides told journalists that a declaration was likely and a decision would be taken at a meeting later that day.
But the general stepped back from the brink. Eventually an announcement came that there would be no state of emergency because he is “committed to democracy”.
Even by its historical standards, Pakistan is in a mess. In the past month over 300 people have been killed in suicide-bombings and fighting with Islamist militants. American officials say al-Qaeda has reconstituted itself in the northern tribal areas. Powerful voices, including that of Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential hopeful, have suggested America should not hesitate to launch air-strikes there. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, talked at length with General Musharraf on August 8th.
But an emergency would have personal uses for General Musharraf. He plans to have himself re-elected as president by the current Parliament, shortly before its life expires in October. He wants to retain his uniform for his next term, though the constitution forbids it. Legal challenges to both moves would be certain. And the Supreme Court has fallen out of love with the general. In a state of emergency, the powers of the judges would be diminished and Parliament’s life might be extended by a year.
Like dictators before him, General Musharraf has this year succumbed to hubris. His re-election plan has been in doubt since a clumsy attempt to sack Pakistan’s chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, in March. Mr Chaudhry challenged the decision in his own court—and on the streets. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis joined him there, in the first mass protests against General Musharraf’s eight-year rule. According to a recent survey by the International Republican Institute, 64% of Pakistanis oppose giving him another term.
Last month the Supreme Court delivered a crippling blow to the government by reinstating Mr Chaudhry. That verdict assured further confrontation between the general and the judges. This month the court also ordered the release from jail of Javed Hashmi, a senior supporter of Nawaz Sharif, an exiled former prime minister and opponent of the general. Mr Hashmi had served four years of a 23-year sentence for inciting mutiny in the army. On August 9th the court was due to begin hearing an appeal by Mr Sharif against General Musharraf’s refusal to let him return home.
This followed the stalling of recent negotiations between the general and another exiled former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. A power-sharing arrangement between these two seemed close after they held a meeting in Abu Dhabi in late July.
But Ms Bhutto said there would be “no deal” unless General Musharraf quit the army.