Every account that I’ve read of the recent developments in Pakistan has suggested that Musharraf has declared a state of emergency in order to go after the liberal opposition. It’s the media, political party activists, pro-democracy lawyers and others who are being targeted; it’s not the Taliban and other radical militants. As Arif Rifaq noted in The Baltimore Sun yesterday, Musharraf has somehow conflated the political opposition and the Taliban as an equally dangerous force. Barnett Rubin, blogging from Pakistan, confirms that opposition activists (and not radical militants) are the ones being harassed and imprisoned:
Recently Taliban appeared in Qisakhani Bazaar in the old city of Peshawar and ordered traders to remove “un-Islamic” posters. There was no reaction from the police or administration. There are dozens of Taliban FM stations broadcasting calls to jihad in both the tribal agencies and the “settled” (administered) areas of NWFP. Not one of them has been shut down; instead the martial law regime has blocked transmissions of liberal cable television stations and blocked the Blackberry network used by the political elite.
Musharraf’s refusal to seriously take on the Taliban suggests what I’ve written about before: that Islamic militants are a convenient boogeyman that pose a fairly manageable threat to the Pakistani regime. To Musharraf, the greatest danger is the burgeoning pro-democracy movement; it is not the random act of terrorism or the pseudo-autonomy of the tribal regions. Indeed, ensuring that there is an ongoing “Islamic threat” guarantees that the aid and the support from Washington will continue to flow.
So, what does this all mean? I share Xanthippas’ sentiment (and his frustration): “…once again we [have written] off concerns over democracy and accommodate dictatorship and tyranny, only with the now signature Bush approach of doing it in a way that is detrimental to our interests.”