On Nov. 3, Gen. Pervez Musharraf put Pakistan effectively under martial law. He suspended the Constitution; sacked judges; imposed restrictions on the press; and put hundreds of politicians, lawyers, and civil society activists in jail or under house arrest.
This was a military coup, President Musharraf’s second in less than a decade. In 1999, his target was the elected government; this time it is the judiciary, the obstacle to his indefinite rule over Pakistan. Musharraf justified his actions by warning that Pakistan’s sovereignty was in danger and that he would not allow the country “to commit suicide.” One would assume he was referring to foreign invasion or civil war, but it was Pakistan’s independent-minded judges and secular lawyers that he was accusing of sedition, for standing up to him and holding his government accountable before the law.
In the weeks leading up to martial law, suicide bombers had killed 140 people in an attack on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Seven more people died a few days later in a blast outside Musharraf’s office and another eight in an attack on Air Force personnel. During the same week, Islamic extremists battled thousands of soldiers for control of Swat, a district on the Afghan border. Hundreds were killed as the military endured the humiliation of surrendering 48 soldiers to the extremists. The surging violence is a threat to Pakistan , but as Musharraf’s speech made clear, it is democracy – not extremism – that worries him.