Pakistan is experiencing a bend in the road to democracy, again. A few steps from the goal, General Pervez Musharraf has declared martial law, thinly disguised as an emergency.
At this juncture it’s difficult to diagnose the reasons for this change of course. The Pakistani state is withering away at the fringes. The desertion of troops in the Swat area could have been the trigger. Equally, the ambitious general could care no less; it could very well be an excuse to settle scores with an assertive judiciary that threatened to cut short his presidential ambitions. With the latter tamed, an elected prime minister will need time to cope with Musharraf.
His rule and power may seem secure, for the moment. But given the resurgence of civil society, the press and the judiciary, that may not be the case for long. He needs to give in to civilian political control. That may or may not solve Pakistan’s problems, but it would be legitimate.