Courtesy Reuters

The Slide Continues

Pakistan continues its slide into misery. A deeply flawed election in October 2002 produced a hung parliament, with no party winning an outright majority. General Pervez Musharraf's favored party, the newly created Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) won a plurality of seats, then cobbled together a coalition regime with the support of six Islamist parties. Musharraf was quick to claim that he had effectively transferred power to an elected body, but thanks to an appalling array of amendments to the constitution that he imposed by fiat, he now wields the power to dismiss the National Assembly at will. Furthermore, the general, who appointed himself president, has also arrogated to himself the right to pass decrees that have the force of law. Perversely enough, these efforts to firmly entrench his position, as well that of the military establishment, leave the regime more vulnerable to a range of acute domestic and international challenges. Worse still, the regime's policy choices under the military's tutelage could very well exacerbate these problems.

The tenuous legitimacy of Musharraf's regime constitutes a very fragile bulwark against a variety of turbulent social currents that course through Pakistani society-including the rise of radical Islam, the growth of lawlessness, and the widening of socioeconomic disparities. Many of these currents have gathered greater force in the wake of the American-led war effort against Iraq. American efforts to persuade Pakistanis that the war against Saddam Hussein's regime does not amount to an attack on Islam have met with little success. Since the onset of the Iraq war a number of large and tumultuous public demonstrations have shaken major Pakistani cities, especially those in the vulnerable western parts of Pakistan that abut the border with Afghanistan. Musharraf's regime, which had initially sought to maintain a noncommittal stance on the U.S. action in Iraq because of its acute financial dependence on the United States, has been forced by growing domestic discontent to openly denounce the war.

Despite this nod to domestic disenchantment it is far from

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