– Bhutto halts further negotiations with Musharraf days after police blockade her inside her home, preventing her from attending a rally
– Bhutto placed under house arrest for second time, one day before her planned ‘long march’ from Lahore to Islamabad
– Arrests of protesting lawyers and opposition parties will likely continue in the near-term
After a day of house arrest and the detention of thousands of her supporters, former Pakistani Prime Minister (PM) Benazir Bhutto announced on November 12, 2007, that she would not pursue any more power sharing negotiations with President Pervez Musharraf. Bhutto has reiterated her position that the emergency rule will prevent free and fair Parliamentary elections.
Hours after her announcement, Bhutto was served another detention order to remain inside her house, this time to prevent her from leading a march from Lahore to Islamabad to protest the emergency rule imposed by Musharraf. Speaking from her home on November 13, 2007, Bhutto stated not only that she believed Musharraf should step down as president but also that she would never serve as prime minister under him and may boycott the elections.
While Musharraf cited the increased militant violence as the reason for the state of emergency, the current civil unrest has distracted the military, allowing Taliban militants to take control of a substantial area of northwest Pakistan.
Under increased pressure from US leaders, Musharraf announced several potential election dates in early 2008. However, he has not indicated when he will end the state of emergency or if he will relax the martial law like conditions before elections take place.
Bhutto Announces End to Talks
In Bhutto’s November 12, 2007, statement to the media she proclaimed, “We cannot work with anyone who has suspended the constitution, imposed emergency rule, and oppressed the judiciary.” She also stated that Musharraf’s announcement of elections in January 2008, though positive is an insufficient step towards democracy. Bhutto and Musharraf had been in power-sharing talks for months before Musharraf declared a state of emergency on November 3, 2007 (Previous Report).
Bhutto’s open opposition to Musharraf came only days after police served her a formal detention order, preventing her from leaving her house to attend a planned opposition rally in Rawalpindi (Previous Report). Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has reported that more than 5,000 supporters have been detained since the beginning of emergency rule, although the Pakistan government claims to have only arrested 2,500 protesters.
Musharraf cited the twin suicide blasts on Bhutto’s return rally on October 18, 2007, as the reason for preventing the PPP from planning future rallies; however, the impediment to further protests was likely done to stop the PPP from stirring up additional support .
US Leaders Pressure Musharraf
President Musharraf is a key ally in the US-led ‘war on terror’ but the US has expressed strong feelings of disapproval of Musharraf’s decision to go ahead with a state of emergency. After initially announcing an election date of February 15, 2008, Musharraf stated on November 12, 2007, that Parliamentary elections will be conducted before January 9, 2008.
The United States has given more than US$10 billion in assistance to Pakistan since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks . The majority of the aid has gone to the Pakistani military, including more than US$5 billion to fight terrorism in Pakistan. A much smaller portion of the aid – US$26 million – has gone towards support of democratic elections.
However, the prospect of democratic elections does not appear likely in the near-term as Musharraf has suppressed the independent media, purged the Supreme Court and arrested thousands of opposition party members.
Pakistan’s Parliament will be dissolved on November 15, 2007; however, Musharraf will continue to delay elections, despite recent pledges to allow the Election Commission to choose a date before January 9, 2008.
Bhutto and her supporters will likely continue to face detentions in the near-term as they seek to intensify pressure against Musharraf. Nevertheless, the former PM is carefully planning her moves as she hopes to return to power but does not want to appear too close to the fiercely unpopular Musharraf.
Islamic militants will continue their campaign in the North West Frontier Province as Musharraf and military resources are distracted by the turmoil in major Pakistani cities, particularly in Islamabad and Karachi.