The expected has happened. Last evening President Musharraf imposed Emergency in Pakistan. One Indian security analyst quickly concluded that Musharraf was cornered. Another opined that he had no other political option. With due respect, it is possible that both err. Not Musharraf, but Pakistan is cornered. It is not that Musharraf had no other political option ' he had no other military option.
Readers might recall the observation in these columns as early as October 5:
'The real crisis is not about who will be President or who will be Prime Minister. It is about defusing Taliban's growing militancy. The war on terror is fatally bleeding Pakistan.'
Subsequently, on October 23 it was written:
'The final assault in the war against terror may have already started. Pakistan's general election is due in January 2008. If that is to take place the war must be decisively won before that.'
The pro-Taliban forces have taken virtual control of NWFP. Suicide bombers are inflicting costly army casualties almost daily. The Dawn columnist Irfan Husain commenting on Pakistan's war against terror wrote on October 27: 'But the fact is that like it or not, we are at war. If we are fighting our own people, we could call it a civil war.'
The suicide attacks have demoralized the army. As hostilities mount its unity will be tested. The commitment of its Pashtun elements will need to be watched. Before any peace formula can be hammered the Taliban must be administered a fatal blow militarily. The fundamentalists must be purged of Al Qaida elements. That's a tall order. It cannot be achieved without a total military assault. That required either Martial Law or the imposition of Emergency.
Musharraf's decision to impose Emergency came in the wake of consultations with Admiral William J Fallon, US commander of CENTCOM, who reached Pakistan on Thursday to discuss war on terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Concerns about not derailing Pakistan's transition to full-fledged democracy had to be balanced against the military situation on the ground. Presumably this figured in the talks between Musharraf and the Admiral. The imposition of Emergency indicates that Musharraf succeeded in convincing the US that nothing short of a total military assault could succeed. This required consolidating President Musharraf's power in the short term. That's why the Emergency.
To keep alive commitment to democracy in the long term it would be smart for Musharraf to convert the proposed interim government into a national government comprising Pakistan's major political parties. Otherwise Emergency rule by Musharraf alone could spin things out of control. The war against terror can lead to far-reaching consequences that might affect the very structure of present day Pakistan. South Asia's hottest winter might have just begun.