As you’ve probably heard by now, Pervez Musharraf has declared martial law and suspended the Pakistani constitution, whatever the hell that means in a military dictatorship. Oh, wait, this is what the hell that means (via Josh Marshall):
The prime minister said that up to 500 people had been arrested so far in a round-up of judges, lawyers and political activists. Among the political activists arrested is Gen. Hameed Gull, the former head of the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, police officials told CNN.
Dubai-based GEO television showed live footage of Gull being apprehended as he attempted to meet some of the seven Supreme Court judges placed under house arrest Saturday after refusing to endorse the president’s decision to suspend the constitution.
“There have been 400 to 500 preventative arrests in the country,” Aziz told a news conference in Islamabad.
Media and police sources say 1,500 opposition figures from Pakistan’s military, judiciary and political sectors have been detained.
In the wake of Saturday’s declaration, the government also issued new rules forbidding newspapers and broadcasters from expressing opinions prejudicial to “the ideology of Pakistan or integrity of Pakistan”.
For what it’s worth, Condi Rice seems to be doing exactly what she should:
The United States will review its financial aid package to its key anti-terrorism ally Pakistan after President Gen. Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency there on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.
“Obviously the situation has changed and we have to review where we are,” Rice said, noting that it is a complicated matter because much of the aid goes to counterterrorism measures.
Earlier, Rice said Washington had not been consulted about Musharraf’s plan to declare the emergency measure, which suspends the constitution and widens his powers.
“I’m disappointed in his decision,” she said, noting that the last time she spoke to the Pakistani leader was on Tuesday.
We can, and should, start trying to destabilize the Musharraf regime through economic and diplomatic means. The notion that some Iranian-style theocracy would emerge if he’s toppled is hogwash; as Blake Hounshell argued in The American Prospect this past March, the chances of that are extremely low. Recent polling suggests that a Bhutto-Musharraf-Sharif race would result in a slim Bhutto victory, with Musharraf and Sharif tied for second. Bhutto may be corrupt, but she’s certainly more democratically inclined than Musharraf, and no less secular.
Moreover, if Bhutto or Sharif were to take power due to a US-assisted toppling of the military regime, they’d automatically be indebted to us, and thus inclined to repay the favor with help with finding al-Qaeda operatives. At the very least, they’d be less likely than Musharraf to object to Obama-style American search missions. Say what you will about the war on terror (and I’ve said a lot), but there are wanted fugitives who killed American citizens living in Pakistan, and it’s in America’s interest to have Pakistan be lead by someone who’ll help us find them.
We have a unique chance to render democratic the sixth most populous nation on Earth and enhance America’s security. I suggest we take it.