Pakistan suspended from Commonwealth

[Updated] According to the BBC, Pakistan has been suspended from the Commonwealth. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper supported the move, which comes in the wake of General Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of a state of emergency. Musharraf sacked many Supreme Court justices who may have been about to declare his re-election as Pakistan’s president invalid owing to his failure to resign from the Army. The deposed Chief Justice was prevented from leaving his official residence yesterday despite government claims he was now free to do so. The reconstituted court has now dismissed all challenges to his re-election, “pav[ing] the way for him to quit as army chief.”

Musharraf has defended his move, claiming it was necessary to establish order for upcoming elections and to fight terrorist groups, presumably including the Taliban group that now rules the Swat Valley–once “the Switzerland of Pakistan–with Musharraf’s acquiescence, even though “Mullah [Maulana] Fazlullah’s jihad is directed at Musharraf’s regime.”

American and European diplomats see the valley’s takeover as further evidence that their ally Musharraf is not entirely committed to fighting the extremists and that his army might not even be capable of doing so, despite the billions in aid it receives from Washington. “The government simply let the situation keep going,” says a high-ranking Western officer, “and now people are pretending this is a recent problem.” The USA and other countries have tried repeatedly to draw attention to the Swat Valley, but were reassured everything was under control. “Now it’s too late.”

Perhaps, but U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte phrased it differently:

“Under [Musharraf’s] leadership,” Mr Negroponte said, great progress has been made “towards a moderate, prosperous and democratic Pakistan.”

“President Musharraf,” he added, “has been and continues to be a strong voice against extremism.”

And “officials in the district” have “imposed a food blockade in parts of Swat amid reports that a full-fledged ground assault is being planned by security forces.” They are also jamming Fazlullah’s FM broadcasts with a broadcast of “Quranic verses to counter Fazlullah’s pre-recorded broadcasts.”

Taliban “spokesman Sirajuddin threatened to unleash suicide bombers if the authorities did not lift [the blockade].”

President Bush also added his support, “saying the general ‘hasn’t crossed the line’ and ‘truly is somebody who believes in democracy.'” This, of course, is of little surprise, given Bush’s domestic record on constitutional principles.

“What exactly would it take for the president to conclude Musharraf has crossed the line? Suspend the constitution? Impose emergency law? Beat and jail his political opponents and human rights activists?” asked Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a presidential candidate. “He’s already done all that. If the president sees Musharraf as a democrat, he must be wearing the same glasses he had on when he looked in Vladimir Putin’s soul.” . . .

Musharraf has provided extensive assistance to the United States in its efforts to seize high-profile al-Qaeda suspects, but his devotion to the fight has been increasingly questioned by some U.S. officials and outside experts. Musharraf “is not only not indispensable; he is a serious liability” to U.S. policy, a new report by the International Crisis Group said.

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