Bhutto Under House Arrest
The mess in Pakistan continues to get worse, with dictator Pervez Musharraf ordering former prime minister Benazir Bhutto placed under house arrest and hundreds more of his opponents arrested.
The opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest this morning, her political party said. Streets were filled with police officers carrying batons and shields, and trucks blocked roads, trying to prevent access to a protest rally that Ms. Bhutto had helped organize in Rawalpindi, the garrison city adjacent to the capital of Islamabad.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Thursday, a day after President Bush called, that Pakistan’s parliamentary elections would be held before Feb. 15. But his security forces continued to widen their crackdown and jailed thousands of opposition party members before the rally, which is scheduled to start in the early afternoon today.
Across Punjab Province on Thursday an estimated 500 workers of Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party were arrested in the government’s latest sweep of its opponents. By Friday morning, party officials said, the number detained in the past three days had climbed to 5,000.
The arrests of the Pakistan Peoples Party members in Punjab appeared to be aimed at district leaders involved in planning the protest, party officials said.
Underlying the United States’ concerns about emergency rule has been the effect on the stability of the Pakistani government and its increasingly faltering efforts in combating terrorism. In the last few days, Washington has tried to figure out how to best influence General Musharraf to back down from emergency rule, which has distracted attention from antiterrorism efforts.
Ironically, this photo (by Olivier Matthys of European Pressphoto Agency) tops the NYT story excerpted above:
So, as far as Musharraf is concerned, all of these actions are part of the “antiterrorism efforts.” That’s why operating under the rule of law is essential for a free society: An unchecked executive can declare anything he sees fit cause for extreme measures.
Overall, this arrest ratchets up the tensions in Pakistan greatly. It becomes much harder for the United States to continue to back Musharraf. And it makes violent resistance and counter-resistance much more likely.