Kishwer Falkner’s article Trouble in Islamabad features in the current issue of Prospect. She is Liberal Democrat spokesman in the Lords for home affairs and justice
The declaration of emergency rule in Pakistan has left the US and Britain with a conundrum. While they need the military on side, they cannot any longer be seen to be supporting a “second coup.” Their carefully crafted deal between Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf was predicated on the Pakistani supreme court being pliable. When it appeared that the court would not play ball, Musharraf “jumped” in what appears to have been a strategic miscalculation.
Given these unwelcome developments, the reaction in London and Washington has been to hold our collective breath, utter several expletives and then press Musharraf to recant on his declaration of emergency and restore elections on schedule. So we hope that in a few weeks Musharraf will step down as chief of army staff and hold elections on January 15th, to emerge sharing power with Benazir Bhutto. From our perspective, these two may not be the dream ticket, but it’s the only scenario on our books.
Not quite. There is no certainty that elections will provide more constitutional stability. The deal which was going to allow Musharraf to retain power involved such convolution on the part of the supreme court that it could never have been enacted in conformity with the constitution. If this case had been settled favourably, the next one might not have been, and so new cases would have ground on, brought by those who would have lost out. Moreover, the deal that would have allowed Bhutto to run for a third prime ministerial term would also have involved setting aside the constitution. From Musharraf’s perspective, if the troublesome constitution was to be ignored every other month, why not do away with it for the transitional period until the merits of the “stable” joint rule could be entrenched, by which time judges would have come to their senses? After all, following the 1999 coup, judges—many of the same troublemakers of last week—were made to take a new oath of loyalty to Musharraf’s government, and did. The few who resisted on the basis that their oath was to uphold the constitution were dismissed. There was no international brouhaha. At the time, Musharraf was not so indispensable to the west, his thinking seems to have gone, so why would it matter now? Hence the miscalculation.