PAKISTAN was in an emergency state before President Musharraf declared a State of Emergency yesterday. It is not clear whether this Declaration has the necessary legal standing which the country's constitution requires and at the time of writing Musharraf has not made the statement to the nation that he has promised. What is clear, though, is that the urgent last-minute pleas from the United States to him to hold-off declaring a State of Emergency had no effect. As a result Washington now faces the choice of having to do without Pakistan's crucial help in Afghanistan or settling to maintain relations with a military dictatorship. It is pointless to predict what may now happen because Pakistan is in an extraordinarily volatile condition and Musharraf's unpopularity extends from the professional classes to the militant Islamists. The key question, of course, is whether he still has the Army's loyalty because without it he could not last for more than a few hours. Meanwhile Benazir Bhutto is apparently returning from her short visit to Dubai to see whether she can salvage anything from the tentative power-sharing agreement she had with Musharraf; it seems unlikely that the January parliamentary elections which she and her Pakistan People's Party had intended to contest will now be held. On the distant far north borders of Pakistan the tribesmen who owe allegiance only to themselves will observe what is happening in Islamabad and conclude that the disorder on which they thrive is intensifying. Pakistan, a tinder box at the best of times, may be in imminent danger of exploding.


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