Pakistan’s political crisis escalated Friday when the government confined opposition leader Benazir Bhutto to her home to thwart a planned protest against President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule this past week.
The detention, which was lifted later in the day, threatened a delicate political agreement between Ms. Bhutto and Gen. Musharraf designed to move Pakistan closer to democracy, and follows a week of demonstrations against the ouster of leading judges, including the head of the Supreme Court, and the detention of thousands of lawyers, opposition figures and others.
Meanwhile, a suicide bombing at the home of a government minister killed four people Friday, underscoring the twin challenges facing Pakistan: stopping the escalation of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists and transitioning from military to civilian rule to restore flagging credibility in the eyes of pro-democracy moderates.
Here’s a closer look:
Why did Gen. Musharraf declare emergency rule?
Gen. Musharraf had worked out a power-sharing deal with Ms. Bhutto, a former prime minister, in which he would resign his army command while remaining president. In return, corruption charges against Ms. Bhutto would be dropped, allowing her to return from exile to run next year for an unprecedented third term as premier.
But it appeared increasingly likely that the Supreme Court would declare Gen. Musharraf’s election last month to be illegal because he hadn’t yet resigned his position as chief of the army, a violation of Pakistan’s constitution.
In declaring an emergency, Gen. Musharraf said he was trying to thwart rising Islamic militancy, which the government claimed was behind last month’s suicide bombing in Karachi that killed 140 people in an attempt to assassinate Ms. Bhutto upon her return to Pakistan. But rather than target radicals, the authorities have rounded up lawyers, journalists and other moderates most likely to oppose extremism.
Is extremism on the rise?
Military and civilian casualties from terrorist attacks in Pakistan jumped to 1,400 this year, compared with 400 through the same period of 2005, according to figures compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, and radical Islamists have become more firmly entrenched across the tribal areas along its northwest frontier.
But the number of Pakistanis supporting suicide bombings has fallen to 9% from 33% in 2002, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project. And as attacks have become more frequent, the number of Pakistanis who say extremism is a serious problem is rising, from 64% in June to 74% in September, according to a survey by the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-backed pro-democracy organization loosely affiliated with the Republican Party.
What consequences could emergency rule have?
In the long term, the authoritarian clampdown risks alienating pro-democracy moderates and driving them into an alliance with Islamic radicals who want to overthrow Gen. Musharraf. Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden warned Thursday that such a scenario wouldn’t be unprecedented: Iranian extremists rose to power in the 1979 revolution by joining with moderates to oust Shah Reza Pahlavi.
Political uncertainty jeopardizes Pakistan’s strong economic growth, which has averaged 7% annually over the past five years. The Karachi Stock Exchange is up 34% this year, but fell Monday by 4.6% — the index’s biggest-ever single-day fall — amid rumors that Gen. Musharraf was under house arrest. And the tumult could chill foreign direct investment, which slipped 10.8% in the July-September period from a year earlier.
Many Pakistanis haven’t shared in the economic gains. Inflation accelerated to a nine-month high of 8.4% in September. About 56% of Pakistanis say their personal economic situation has worsened in the past year, an increase from 34% in February.
Emergency rule also damages American credibility with Pakistanis, as the U.S. calls for democracy abroad while supporting the increasingly repressive and unpopular military dictator.
Why hasn’t the U.S. ditched Gen. Musharraf?
Pakistan provides critical support for U.S. operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and there are few strong leaders to take Gen. Musharraf’s place. The U.S. “doesn’t have a very good hand to play,” says Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Is the deal between Gen. Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto dead?
Ms. Bhutto hasn’t closed the door completely to working with Gen. Musharraf, whose term had been set to expire this week and who has said he would hold elections by Feb. 15, one month later than originally scheduled. Ms. Bhutto said Friday that Gen. Musharraf could still preserve their deal if he stepped down as army chief, restored the constitution and held elections by Jan. 15, as originally scheduled.
* * * * *
- Support for Pakistan’s army, traditionally one of the country’s strongest institutions, dropped to 70% from 82% during the past year. Meanwhile, support for the media has increased to 80% from 68%, and support for the courts jumped to 77% from 60%.
- Ms. Bhutto was elected prime minister in 1988, becoming the first woman to lead a Muslim nation. Her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was elected prime minister in 1973, overthrown in 1977 and hanged in 1979.
- Two-thirds of Pakistanis have an unfavorable view of the U.S. government, according to an April poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.
- The U.S. imported $3.6 billion of goods from Pakistan last year, mostly textiles. Pakistan imported almost $2 billion of American goods, including aircraft, generators and cotton.
- The Netherlands suspended its aid to Pakistan. It has pledged €15 million ($22 million) of aid this year, of which about €12 million has been spent.
* * * * *
Write to Nick Timiraos at firstname.lastname@example.org.