How Will Pakistanis React to Crackdown?

by Steve Crabtree

Fears of terrorism may temper resistance to emergency rule

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s move Saturday to suspend the country’s constitution and arrest more than 1,000 lawyers and political opponents has provoked outrage within Pakistan and the international community. Musharraf’s political opponents have accused the president of implementing the crackdown to avert a Supreme Court ruling on the legitimacy of his re-election in early October. Some, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, have characterized the move as an attempt to “entrench his dictatorship.”

Despite the outcry among leaders, public demonstrations in opposition to Musharraf’s declaration have consisted primarily of lawyers and political activists, and police have quickly subdued them with mass arrests. A sustained opposition movement will have to draw much broader support to be successful. As TIME magazine noted Saturday, if predictions of Musharraf’s imminent political demise are to hold up, “much will depend on the reaction of ordinary Pakistanis.”

That reaction is very much in question. The state of emergency was declared on the grounds that Islamic militants had come to represent a severe threat to Pakistan. According to the state-run media, Musharraf said “the superior judiciary paralyzed various organs of the state and created impediments in the fight against terrorism.” Many Pakistanis perceive the government’s efforts to combat terrorism as insufficient: In response to a Gallup Poll in June, only one-third (33%) say the government is doing enough to fight terrorism; that percentage may well have dropped even further after the Oct.18 attack against Bhutto that claimed more than 100 lives. Suicide bombings throughout Pakistan have been on the rise in recent months; in 2007 just half of Pakistanis (50%) say they feel safe walking alone in their areas at night, down from 71% in 2005.

Concern for Democracy

On the other hand, widespread concerns about the future of democracy in the country may overcome such fears, particularly if the current state of emergency rule is extended. Despite Musharraf’s statement that the crackdown is part of a “phased manner to move toward complete democracy,” the indefinite postponement of democratic elections is likely to generate widespread condemnation among the Pakistani population. Asked in June how important it is to them personally to have a democratically elected government, about half of Pakistanis (49%) say it is “very important,” and an additional 20% say it is “essential” and something they cannot live without.

While democratic elections are extremely important to them, Pakistanis are not happy with the way democracy works in their country: Only 24% say they are “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with the way democracy works in Pakistan, while 34% say they are very or somewhat dissatisfied.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,500 residents of Pakistan, aged 15 and older, conducted May 24 to June 29, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error attributable to sampling, weighting, and other random effects is ±2.8 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


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