It is worth stating the obvious – Musharraf has always been a military dictator, strongly supported by the US and the UK. He has not just become a military dictator. What he has just done is tighten authoritarian control, clamping down on the press, opposition parties and the judiciary. He is becoming a worse despot, taking long strides down the road of authoritarianism, and dashing fond hopes that he may be set on gradually returning democracy.
The timing of his pressing of the panic button seems dictated by a need to pre-empt the Supreme Court finding his re-appointment as President unconstitutional. Its connection to Benazir Bhutto’s return is confusing, but her initial statements seem to be condemnatory, short of actually doing anything about it. It has to be said that, with very few exceptions, Pakistan’s leading democratic politicians are, and always have been, a venal shower. But being clear eyed about that in no way justifies Musharraf’s desperate attempt to extend his power.
A large proportion of the over a thousand or more arrested are in fact the “Good guys” in this – human rights activists, the better journalists and campaigning lawyers. That is inexcusable.
The posturing in the US and UK would be amusing if it weren’t appalling. Rice and the Pentagon have a distinctly different nuance, while the UK government tries to get away with minimal huffing and puffing – and no action. The whole flawed logic of the War on Terror is exposed yet again. I had to watch it as they supported Karimov. A measure of their hypocrisy is that even their mild rebukes of Musharraf are harsher than anything they were meteing out to Karimov – not because they mean it, but because in the case of Pakistan the World is watching and they feel the need for some pro-democratic spin to hide their true actions.
Meanwhile just how close we are to similar government actions to those in Pakistan comes with a government ratcheting up of the anti-Muslim rhetoric following the De Menezes verdict. The head of MI5 is wheeled out today to make the ludicrous assertion that there are 2,000 individuals posing a potential terrorist threat in the UK.
Those confessions and mass denunciations wrung in the torture chambers of Uzbekistan, Pakistan and elsewhere do come in useful when you need to press the fear button again, don’t they?