President Musharraf has formally ended his country's State of Emergency and restored the illusion of civilian democracy to Pakistan. Musharraf has now gotten everything he wanted from martial law - a tame judiciary which will support him against opposition politicians, long-time cronies in charge of the military and intelligence services, a cowed media and a toothless election commission which can be guaranteed to look the other way when he wishes it to.
As one of his last acts under the Emergency, he decreed that Pakistan's nuclear weapon's launch codes would now be under his control, rather than the Prime Minister's - ensuring that should one of his critics win the January election he will still hold the trump card for Western support.
But don't hold your breath for free and fair elections.
Bhutto's party, the largest opposition group, is accusing the Pakistan Muslim League-Q of distributing thousands of ballots marked in its favor to ensure victory in Punjab, Pakistan's largest province and the key to national power.Indeed, the UN's human rights envoy is saying the result is already locked in:
Her party alleges that loyal officials and police will turn a blind eye to so-called "ghost" polling stations, where the phantom ballots will be cast. Also, polling stations in opposition strongholds will be shifted at the last moment so voters don't know where to vote.
"These two methods are very traditional," said Babar Awan, a senator for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party.
"There is no point in monitoring the elections or watching the poll -- the rigging has already happened," said Hina Jilani, a prominent Pakistani attorney who is also the UN special envoy for human rights defenders.Meanwhile, the Bush adminsitration are saying that even if the elections are observably unfair, they will accept the resulting "soft totalitarianism" as the best that can be expected under the circumstances. So much for spreading democracy, eh?
She made the remarks after lawmakers at a Congressional hearing on the political crisis in Pakistan sought her opinion on the prospect of monitoring the January 8 polls to elect a new parliament.
Jilani, co-founder of the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan, charged that Musharraf, who was expected to lift a five-week-old state of Emergency on Saturday, had already destroyed institutions such as the judiciary and the press.
Fearing that the Supreme Court would disqualify him from running for re-election, Musharraf sacked and detained independent-minded judges and lawyers leaders who refused to accept his imposition of Emergency rule.
"Freedom of assembly is totally curtailed, freedom of expression is curtailed," Jilani said.
"Under these conditions, the election that is going to take place on January 8 has very little credibility. Under Pakistan's constitution and the law, the judiciary oversees the elections.
"A judiciary that lacks the confidence of the people and has no credibility, how do you think the elections are going to be credible?" Jilani asked the lawmakers.