Tonight’s Pakistan update —
Benazir Bhutto predicts a year before elections, however she is gathering a coalition, at present tying into two nationalist parties from Balochistan.
Shaukat Aziz is saying that it’s possible the elections will be delayed, but Musharraf has said at other points that they will proceed on time.
MMA, JuI, and PML-N party activists are being rounded up, and the lawyers and media contingents are promising demonstrations. There was a weak demonstration in Karachi today of about 12 people that was quickly broken up. The streets remain quiet at this time. It’s interesting to note that Hamid Gul, an old-guard ISI agitator behind the scenes, was arrested.
Musharraf has shut down the opposition from the Supreme Court and the Lawyers as his first move, moving on JuI activists, Old-guard ISI, and MMA as his second. This successfully counters his political opposition for the short term, and takes the Chaudry Cousins and their bloc out of play temporarily. It also removes some of the leadership more likely to plan violent action in the cities as well.
In a strange twist both the Army hostages that Fazlullah and the TNSM were holding, as well as the 220 soldiers that Baitullah Mehsud’s Pak Taliban were holding have been released. Fazlullah added insult to injury by giving the released 48 soldiers 500 rupees each after they turned in weapons and signed non-agression statements.
The AQAM forces releasing soldiers is strange indeed – is it because they fear now that the PCO is in place? ( I don’t think they fear for themselves, but constitutional rights protections are suspended – there’s nothing to stop Musharraf from rounding up their friends, relatives and supporters.) Or is it because an accomodation has been reached? (Which is what I think most likely.)
It could be face-saving initiatives on both sides part, as the parties releasing the soldiers are mostly Pakistani in make-up and with Benazir and her coalition back in-country they might have allied against her as she can easily pull most of the Sindh, Balochistan, and Punjab if moderate forces do unite behind her.
The move with the Balochistan Nationalists is interesting, since they are long time opponents of the government but not aligned with Al Qaeda or standard Taliban forces. The other wild card is the foreign contingents of fighters under unknown leader (Al Libi?) in North Waziristan.
Which way is this all headed? Anyone’s guess at this point is as good as mine. My hope is that Musharraf is playing a bad-cop good cop act with Benazir as good cop — not very likely, but if everyone hates Musharraf, they have more reason to love Benazir. It is noteworthy that the National Reconciliation Ordnance was declared active right after the PCO was put in place.
Rumors of a coup UPDATE, from Dawn:
ISLAMABAD, Nov 5: Rumours about President Gen Pervez Musharraf having been ousted in a coup were quashed soon after the state-run television showed clippings of the general meeting foreign diplomats and taking oaths from Federal Shariat Court judges on Monday.
It was not clear who had started the rumours which spread like wild fire because of the blackout of independent television channels and caused anxiety in the country and triggered panic in the stock market.
The rumour was so intense that at one stage everything appeared to have come to a standstill.
“I have been flooded with calls and text messages. Everyone appears to be worried about a possible coup,” a journalist said.
At the time the rumours were circulating, Gen Musharraf was meeting foreign diplomats in his office. When asked about the rumours, the general is reported to have remarked: “The report is a joke of the highest order”.
Inter-Services Public Relations director-general Major Gen Waheed Arshad was quoted by different media organisations as saying: “These are just baseless rumours. The situation is normal and President Musharraf is functioning as usual”.When the news on Pakistan was breaking, the updates were coming fast and furious, and being corrected just as fast.
When the news came out that Chief of Army Staff initiated the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO), I speculated on a possible coup. I quickly corrected that when I remembered that the “Chief of Army Staff” is Musharraf, since his successor had not yet taken over. And of course when I get worldwide coverage it’s the part that was wrong. I quickly updated and corrected that, but it just goes to show how things go awry.
I’ve gotten a lot of reporting and predictions right on Pakistan, but the time I get it wrong it goes ’round the world. Talk about embarrassed.