UPDATE: Benazir Bhutto once more under house arrest to top the long march motorcade. Story at Reuters
UPDATE: The rhetoric has stiffened, with PML-N and Jamiaat e Islami threatening boycott of the Parliamentary elections. This is a standard tactic of dissident conservative minorities & Islamist minorities in Islamic countries (note similar moves in the past by Hezbollah in Lebanon, MMA in Pakistan previously, and the extreme parties in Iraq during their elections.) Sorry, but elections are elections – if you choose to boycott, then you do not invalidate them.
I’ve been struggling for two hours to come up with a lead for tonight’s update, but the picture in Pakistan has become so confused that a simple retelling of events without context would just add confusion. So I’ve been seeking a lead in — none so far fit, but the closest is an apocalyptic poem.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. – Yeats
Is Musharraf doing the right thing? Time will be the judge.
On the one hand he has political opponents trying to form mass populist rallies while on the other he has Islamist fanatics who want to bomb those rallies. Allow more freedom, or protect the innocent and earnest? A martyred Bhutto sparks the civil war that would tear the soul from Pakistan and make rubble of the dreams of all factions, even those who revel in chaos, for this chaos would crush even them.
In the frontiers Islamist tyranny creeps forward engulfing regions, and foreigners have declared war and insurrection against the government. On the other hand government has become a soft tyranny: stopping rallies, muzzling press, and suspending rights. Dire situations call for dire measures, but is the threat from the frontiers great enough to warrant it?
I suspect that the threat is greater than those in the urban areas think, for the Frontier Corps army will not stand against that foe, even though the Islamists would have no qualms at taking their heads, muslim brother or not. Add to that all the forces that have exited Iraq to Pakistan, the wolves across the borders to the north and to the west, and I would call it dire.
Many are characterizing this as the new Great Game, but really it’s the regional game – it’s Pakistan’s neighbors, tribal nationalist groups, and sects that lend the instability, not the ex-colonial powers anymore.
That said on to the news.
Musharraf has stated that he will hold parliamentary elections in early January, and that he will remove the uniform once the Supreme court clears him for position as President. That sounds reasonable if it happens, and is a good sign. The press although “muzzled” still reports on Musharraf in unkind manner, and factually, however when they become too deeply critical then the clamps come down. So there are three BBC corespondents exiting the country, and some stations have been cautioned.
In the background Bhutto has stated that Chief Justice Iftikhar is the only true justice of the court, which is passing strange, and she has reached out to PML-N to join her. She plans a long march to Islamabad, 300 miles of motorcade, and Musharraf has stated that he will stop that. BB is displaying a great deal of courage, standing forthright even though she is a target, and that you must admire — assembly, speech, and association should all be free and never suffer intimidation, either from the government or from the Islamists who would tear the country to splinters.
The army is caught in the middle — but this needs to be said – the people of Pakistan are their backbone regardless of faction. If they can’t face the Islamists it is because the people are not giving them the support and the moral authority they need to do so. Regardless of the fools who are leading I think Pakistan must support the troops direct if they are to have a future.