Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, is expected on Saturday to lift a six-week state of emergency that has drawn international condemnation and tested relations with Washington, his biggest ally.
There are signs that the order, introduced on November 3 by General Musharraf to solidify his control on power, may have had the opposite effect. According to analysts and diplomats, he is emerging from the emergency weaker, and with greater uncertainty facing the nation in the lead-up to January 8 parliamentary elections.
Mr Musharraf “has lost a lot of ground”, says Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political and security affairs analyst. “The interesting question is, how soon will anti-Musharraf forces rally against him once again, after the emergency is lifted. Musharraf is in a no-win situation because there are many people who are determined to oppose him.”
Mr Musharraf has yet to remove curbs on the media or restore dozens of judges sacked since his imposition of de facto martial law, and the lawyers who have led many of the protests against the president this year remain a potent force. “The resistance from the lawyers hasn’t died down. In fact it is just simmering beneath the surface,” says Taffazul Rizvi, a supreme court lawyer.
He also faces an invigorated opposition, with two former prime ministers who weeks ago were watching events from exile – Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif – back and working against him. After the emergency is lifted, says a western diplomat, “they will have more room to agitate”.
There are mounting fears the government plans to rig the election in favour of pro-Musharraf parties. Opposition leaders also say that without an independent judiciary, an impartial election commission and media freedom, the lifting of the emergency – a key demand of the international community ahead of the elections – will be a largely cosmetic move.
A bigger problem for Mr Musharraf may be his dwindling popularity. The state of emergency polarised the country, leaving him with reduced support and in need of new political allies to ensure a working majority in a new parliament.
A poll published on Thursday by the International Republican Institute, the Washington-based international think-tank arm of the US Republican party, showed that two-thirds of Pakistanis want Mr Musharraf to quit office.
The survey was taken in November, in the run-up to Mr Musharraf’s resignation as army chief, while Mr Sharif was still in exile.
Ms Bhutto had the widest support, with 31 per cent of those polled saying she was the best leader to handle Pakistan’s problems, against 25 per cent for Mr Sharif and 23 per cent for Mr Musharraf.
But the survey also showed that a US-backed attempt to forge a power-sharing deal between Ms Bhutto and Mr Musharraf was more unpopular than ever, with 60 per cent of the 3,520 people polled opposing it.
Published: December 24 2007 02:00
The International Republican Institute was referred to in an article on December 15 as an arm of the US Republican party. The institute is a non-partisan body which describes itself as a democracy building organization.