“The first thing we do let’s kill all the lawyers” quoth the Bard, through Dick the Butcher, and General Pervez Musharraf is nothing if not a creature of the West.

A quarter of the country’s 12,000 lawyers are now behind bars, and most judges are under house arrest. The move effectively represents a winding-up of the entire judicial arm of government, with police allegedly being paid bonuses to beat up any wigs foolish enough to turn up to local courts.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has become a de facto leader of public protest, urging lawyers and others still free to go to the four corners of the country. “The time for sacrifice has come, to rise up for the supremacy of the constitution.” As well as seizing the courts, Musharraf has also cracked down on the myriad of independent TV stations in the country, producing that trademark of coups everywhere, the screen suddenly going to black.

Benazir Bhutto has flown back into Islamabad, saying she would not meet with Musharraf. Of course not. She’s no longer fighting for Pakistan, but for leadership of the non-Musharraf forces, the crackdown having promoted Chaudry and others to leadership roles. Just twelve hours earlier she had said she was “leaving the door open” for dealing with Musharraf. That changed when she realised that the situation was spinning beyond crackdown and into conflict.

Indeed Musharraf’s move may have queered her pitch irrevocably. Bhutto is so identified with US interests that movement beyond compromise will leave her stuck in the middle. Should things be polarised in that manner, would the centre hold against Islamists, which includes figures in the military? And what would the Coalition do in that case?

Your guess is as good as theirs. It should be obvious by now that there is now plan in place – merely a series of improvisations. The region has rendered the US purely responsive – which is why for the moment they’re sticking with Musharraf.

The UK’s response was predictably postmodern, “leading” calls for Musharraf to resign, but stopping short of limiting aid – which includes much stuff that shouldn’t be stopped, but, also, of course, including military aid. Material also – such as the 30 helicopters the US transferred to Pakistan only weeks ago. Copters ain’t for foreign wars. (The Age brought out the Australian angle reminding us of 1990, when yellowcake Bob sold fighters to Pakistan that were always known to be convertible to nuclear arming).

The meta-coup seems to have come about not only as a pre-emptive strike against a judicial ruling of an illegitimite presidency, but also out of a perception that the US is too weak to be worth worrying about. Musharraf refused to take Condi Rice’s calls – she came on too strong – on the weekend, mirroring Turkey’s earlier perception that regional security was now every country and regime for itself.

And what to make, for example, of the Pentagon’s statement on 2 November, worth quoting at length:

Hailing Pakistan as an “indispensable ally” in the fight against terrorism, the United States has said it is committed to a long-term relationship with Pakistan in wide-ranging areas, including security cooperation. Commenting on media reports to the contrary, US officials said the alliance between the two countries remains “strong and is not frayed at all.”

“Pakistan is a vital ally and contributes in many ways to the war on terror. Our long-term relationship with Pakistan is central to defeating extremist groups in the region, and it’s difficult to imagine success without Pakistani support,” a Pentagon spokesman said.

A case of all-too-believable stupidity? Or a pre-endorsement?

No predictions. Leave that to Greg “Lou Richards” Sheridan. This one will run.