Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said last Thursday he would end the state of emergency next month, after domestic and international pressure to restore normal government ahead of general elections this January.
“I’m fully determined that the emergency will be lifted on December 16,” Musharraf said in an address to the nation on the day of his inauguration as a civilian president. This is his second five-year term.
The Washington Post reports thousands of opposing politicians and lawyers were detained under emergency laws, the independent media was shutdown and sporadic anti-Musharraf protests were curbed by baton-wielding police.
The United States, Pakistan’s biggest ally in the West, has called for an end to emergency rule, fearful that instability will undermine the fight against al-Qaeda and the struggle against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
However, ending emergency rule will not necessarily make life easier for Musharraf. He still faces widespread resentment at home, and the January vote will likely install a legislature that could propose impeachment.
The United States will keep the pressure on him to attack Islamist militancy. Yet by quitting as chief of the army, which brought him to power in a military coup in 1999, he has cut himself off from his main power base, according to The Associated Press.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned on Sunday and another old rival, Benazir Bhutto, came back last month. Musharraf deposed Sharif in 1999 in a bloodless military coup and forced the two-time premier abroad a year later.
According to The New York Times, Musharraf said Bhutto and Sharif had now been given a “level playing field” and urged them and other politicians not to boycott the election.
Sharif and Bhutto, also a former prime minister, argued the vote could not be free and fair if held under emergency powers.
Musharraf served as military ruler from 1999 until June 2001 when he took over for the then president. Musharraf just recently retired from the army. The Pakistani Parliament later endorsed him as president.
He won re-election in a vote by legislators on Oct. 6. He soon suspended the constitution, declared emergency rule and removed the Supreme Court to block opposition legal challenges to him winning the presidency again while still a serving officer.
“I think it is an exceeding difficult country to police and over which to maintain control,” said Sven Dubie, professor in the Department of History at John Carroll University.
Sharif said Musharraf’s presidency was illegitimate and wants the Supreme Court judges he removed to be restored and allowed to rule.
Musharraf, who cited rising militancy when he imposed the emergency, believes the military has stopped the spread of terrorism from remote tribal lands on the Afghan border towards urban cities.