I'm watching Musharraf speaking in Urdu on television. I can't understand everything he is saying, but the gist of it seems to be that as a responsible president he has been caught between two extremist forces: Islamic militants and the judiciary. Apparently the rise of Islamic militancy in Pakistan is due to the irresponsibility of the judiciary, which has demoralized the armed forces and the forces of law and order.
Judging from my brief unscientific survey, this argument is not likely to play well (or at all) with the public. Musharraf has shut down cable TV and international news channels. But this is Pakistan's first post-mobile phone and post-internet coup. Musharraf may be in for a surprise.
Now he is speaking in English, telling us foreigners that Pakistan is on the verge of destabilization. Somehow people have been doing this behind the back of the president. He is taking this action to prevent Pakistan from committing suicide and to preserve the democratic transition. He says that the third and final stage of his democratic transition (election of new legislatures, his serving as a civilian president if elected) is being subverted.
To us critics and idealists he says, don't demand the level of democracy that you learned over centuries. Please don't demand or respect your level of civil rights and human rights. We are trying to learn. Please give us time. Now he is reading from Abraham Lincoln, whose supreme passion was maintaining the Union. He is portraying Lincoln as a ruthless dictator who broke all laws for the sake of the state. "Was it possible to lose the nation and yet preserve the constitution?" A limb may be amputated to save a life, but a life should not be given to save a limb. He is making the argument from necessity to preserve the nation.
"For me and every Pakistani, Pakistan comes first," he says. He claims that with all sincerity he is acting for Pakistan. But the Pakistanis with whom I have been speaking generally believe he is doing it for Pervez Musharraf.
The text messages and emails will start in the morning, as Benazir Bhutto returns to the scene from Dubai.