KARACHI (Reuters) - A Pakistani opposition strike virtually shut down Karachi and other major cities on Monday after nearly 40 people were killed and about 150 wounded in Pakistan's worst political street violence in two decades.
Authorities banned demonstrations in Karachi and declared a public holiday across Sindh province after the weekend violence in the city, which began when Pakistan's suspended top judge tried to meet supporters.
The government has authorized paramilitary troops to shoot anyone involved in serious violence in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, which has a history of bloody feuding between ethnic-based factions.
This all erupted from Musharraf's decision to remove Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in March. You may recall the news stories of mass protests by lawyers following that move.
Since Chaudhry was suspended, many lawyers and senior judges have resigned [JURIST report] and boycotted courts [JURIST report] across Pakistan in an effort to prompt Chaudhry's reinstatement. Chaudhry denies any wrongdoing and has called for the hearings to be made public [JURIST report]. The chief justice has been active in cases involving people allegedly abducted by state security personnel and the privatization of state assets and has handed down decisions which many say Musharraf views as a threat to his continued rule.
The BBC has more background and this Pakistan Daily Times editorial outlines the political challenges Musharraf now faces.
The Bush administration has treated Musharraf with kid gloves - trying to convince the world that Musharraf is cooperating in dealing with GWOT threats while Musharraf stated in his memoir that he was told to cooperate or face having his country bombed. He also wrote that the CIA paid the Pakistani government hundreds of millions of dollars to hand over suspected terrorists.
His actions, however, have too often been those appeasement rather than strength. The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is still the main conduit for Taliban insurgents* and Hamid Karzai has well-known grievances with Musharraf that Bush tried unsuccessfully to mediate last year. And then, of course, there was the extremely awkward move by Musharraf to pardon AQ Khan who is now being protected by Pakistan's government while beig shielded from questions and the fact that, as ABC News reported in February, Cheney felt he actually had to show Musharraf CIA evidence about the presence of al-Qaeda in Pakistan in order to convince him there was still a problem.
"President Musharraf is the kind of man who doesn't move until he sees the hard facts in front of his face," said Mansoor Ijaz, a counterterrorism analyst who has dealt with Musharraf.
So, just how much of an ally is Musharraf and why has the Bush administration basically turned a blind eye to his non-compliance? Maybe it's because, as this 2002 article described, Bush and Musharraf share a disdain for the democratic will of the people they were elected to serve and both see themselves as being above the law. More likely is the fact that Pakistan is part of the "nuclear club" and the US feels it can exert some measure of control over Musharraf to keep him in line so he doesn't actually use those weapons.
What's unknown at this time is just how much CIA involvement there is in Pakistan to attempt to aid Musharraf through this crisis (although the CIA's actions there in the past have caused some serious problems, but it's not like they care) and whether he can actually last through this storm. Finger-wagging by western governments will just prove to be useless so you just know there's some covert US activity going on there to deal with all of this.
As Edward M Gomez writes for the SFGate, Violence in Pakistan could be bad news for Bush:
The news that its high-paid buddy in Pakistan - General President Pervez Musharraf, the democracy-crushing dictator who has received billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars - is being challenged and may be on the decline can't be good for Team Bush.
Dragged down by its costly, failed adventure in Iraq and mired in corruption scandals back home, the Bush administration has no enthusiastic allies left. If Musharraf falls, it won't look good for Team Bush to have aided him for so long, literally buying his support in its aimless "war on terror." If Musharraf uses heavy-handed tactics to crush Pakistan's pro-democracy movement, that won't look good either for a U.S. administration that still claims to be a big promoter of democracy around the world.
*Canada's government hasn't exactly been very helpful in working towards solving the conflict between Karzai and Musharraf. Foreign affairs minister Peter Mackay offered Musharraf support in January for Musharraf's fence idea, which was staunchly opposed by Afghanistan's government as well as affected Pakistani tribes. At least he did oppose Pakistani government plans to plant land mines on the border.
U.S., Pakistani soldiers killed in border clash
Up to 7 Afghan troops killed in Pakistan clash
Witness for Pakistan's suspended judge shot dead
Troops told to shoot rioters as death toll mounts in Karachi