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:

Bhutto Under House Arrest Photo Olivier Matthys/European Pressphoto Agency The area around Benazir Bhutto’s residence in Islamabad was sealed off by the police.

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    Musharraf is no idiot, he knows he has us between a rock and a hard place. He uses the threat of the radical Islamist threat to justify his continuing grip on power. That resonates with a few people in our government who believe only he stands between AQ/Taliban control of Pakistan’s nukes. I’ve given up on this administration’s willingness to do anything to change the situation. Let’s see if a Dem administration will do differently.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    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.

    That’s precisely the argument I’ve heard from Musharraf’s spokesmen being interviewed. They cite U. S. domestic anti-terrorism efforts after 9/11 as models.

    The problem I have with this is that a difference in degree is, indeed, a difference in kind. The situations are very different and hard to compare.

  3. James Joyner says:

    The problem I have with this is that a difference in degree is, indeed, a difference in kind. The situations are very different and hard to compare.

    Oh, absolutely. Bush is pushing the envelope on presidential power in a way that it hasn’t been done in quite some time, but he has neither the aspiration nor the ability to become a dictator. America is much less free than I’d prefer, but we’re clearly a “free country” by comparison with virtually every other society in the history of the planet.

    Similarly, the mess at Abu Ghraib and the questionable practices at Guantanimo aren’t in the same league as the outrages perpetrated by our enemies.

    All that said, though, bad action on our part can be exploited by our adversaries. Cries of, “This isn’t any different than Abu Ghraib” or “But Bush does it too” may be intellectually dishonest but they’re quite effective for propaganda purposes.

  4. Cernig says:

    The problem I have with this is that a difference in degree is, indeed, a difference in kind.

    No it isn’t. If there was an actual difference in kind then we wouldn’t have to talk about how much of a difference in degree there might be.

    Regards, C