Musharraf Pledges Elections by Mid-February

Pervez Musharraf has pledged to hold elections in February rather than postponing them for a year as previously announced.

Pakistan’s parliamentary elections will he held by mid-February, a month later than planned, the country’s military ruler said Thursday, a day after President Bush urged him to hold the vote on time.

Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto denounced President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s pledge as insufficient and said he should step down as army chief within a week.

With anger over military rule spreading, the United States and domestic opponents are stepping up pressure on Musharraf to end the emergency rule imposed Saturday, shed his uniform and hold elections as planned in January. Bush, who counts Musharraf as a key ally in the war on terror, telephoned him Wednesday to say he should step down as the military chief and hold the vote on schedule.

And Bhutto, who had been in talks with Musharraf on forming a post-election alliance, added to the pressure by deciding to join protests against the emergency. Authorities reportedly arrested hundreds of her supporters overnight to head off a major rally she is planning near Islamabad on Friday.

Frankly, holding elections in February rather than January is hardly the end of the world. Ideally, however, internal pressures will continue to build and force Musharraf to obey the constitution.

Meanwhile, David Broder reports, India is quite nervous and the whole incident is putting additional strains on U.S.-India relations.

During a visit to New Delhi that happened to coincide with the crisis, I found that Indians were both puzzled and dismayed that the U.S. government seemed so ambivalent about Musharraf’s actions. The Indian press reported, along with U.S. journals, that the Bush administration had sent urgent messages to Musharraf counseling him against the crackdown.

But when he ignored their advice and declared martial law, President Bush and the State Department offered only the mildest reprimands and immediately signaled a willingness to continue to support Musharraf and his regime.

To many here, that made it appear as if democracy was less important to the U.S. government than whatever help Musharraf might supply in fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Well . . . duh. United States national security interests trump our concerns for internal politics of faraway countries. Substitute any other country for “United States” in that sentence and it remains just as true.

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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. A month’s delay is not a big deal, agreed.

    The problem, of course, is that thousands of those who oppose Musharraf are currently in jail. One suspects that will diminish the competitive nature of the elections, even if they are released.

    If a rally can result in 700+ being arrested, election dates are largely irrelevant.

    Not that any of that changes the US’s options at the moment.