Pakistan Crisis Alert: Emergency Rule or Return to Democracy?

Posted in Broader Middle East | 07-Jun-07 | Source: International Crisis Group

Islamabad/Washington/Brussels, 6 June 2007: With rumours of emergency rule – in effect martial law – flying about Islamabad, the U.S. should lead an immediate move by the international community, including the EU and Japan, to urge peaceful transition to democratic rule in Pakistan.

Pakistan: Emergency Rule or Return to Democracy?,* a special briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the deteriorating situation in the country as President Pervez Musharraf faces his most serious challenge in nearly eight years of authoritarian rule. Given an increasingly assertive opposition following his 9 March decision to remove the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, it will be impossible for the president and his military backers to maintain the status quo.

“Any attempt to impose emergency rule and suspend fundamental rights would be pouring petrol on the fire”, says Crisis Group’s South Asia Director, Samina Ahmed. “It would swell opposition numbers on the streets, and the authorities would almost certainly use excessive force to suppress them. In the resulting chaos, the strength of violent Islamist groups would only grow.”

Western friends of Pakistan, most influentially the U.S., can tip the balance by delivering a clear message that emergency rule is unacceptable and that Pakistan should return to democratic government by holding free, fair and democratic elections by the end of the year. Specifically, the U.S., the EU, Japan and others should:

  • strongly and publicly warn against any imposition of emergency rule or any measures to stifle constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech, association, assembly and movement;
  • press General Musharraf to refrain from any political interference in the case against the Chief Justice being heard by the Supreme Court; and
  • urge the Pakistani military to allow a return to democracy through free and fair elections, including allowing the return of exiled political leaders.

U.S. spokespersons have repeatedly said that the domestic crisis should be resolved in accordance with Pakistani law. This line should be re-emphasised and Musharraf encouraged to respect the constitution by allowing the new assemblies to hold presidential elections and by giving up the post of army chief.

“A transition to democratic rule would marginalise extremist forces and reduce the growing tensions in society”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “The military has pulled back from direct rule in the past and should do so again.”

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) 32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) 1 202 785 1601
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*Read the full Crisis Group special briefing on our website:

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering over 50 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.