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Pakistan At Crossroads:WILL MUSHARRAF CONTINUE?, by October 2007 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 8 October 2007

Pakistan At Crossroads


By Sreedhar

(Former Sr Fellow Institute for Defence Studies & Analysis)

Finally the October 6, 2007 Presidential election in Pakistan took place. Gen. Musharraf got 98 per cent of the votes polled for another five year term. Apparently, if he is declared elected some time during this month he may give up his position as the Chief of Army Staff in the next few weeks and pass on the baton to Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

The circumstances in which he managed the election for his second term as President, raises the question of legitimacy of his Presidency. In examining this issue one has to take cognizance of three factors.

First, is the mass resignation of the Opposition members from the National Assembly belonging to various parties. By 2 October, 85 Parliamentarians’ resigned --- 62 from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), 20 from the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), and three others, including cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.

Second, there were moves to dissolve the Provincial Assembly of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) headed by the MMA. Had this happened the Presidential election itself would have been postponed. However, the MMA Government in NWFP was not able to do this because of a no confidence motion moved by Opposition parties. This would have necessitated the Government proving its majority before dissolving the Assembly.  

At another level, Musharraf’s election is being challenged in the Supreme Court. The petition questions the General’s candidature while remaining the Army Chief. Two, it opposes a Presidential election from an electoral college whose term is about to end. Three, it pleads for his disqualification and a stay on the election.

Apparently, the politicized Pakistan judiciary allowed the Presidential election process to be completed but wanted the election result not to be declared till it disposed off the petitions. It appears they wanted to see which way the political winds in Pakistan will blow after Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chief Benazir Bhutto’s return on 18 October. 

Moreover, Gen. Musharraf’s understanding with Benazir has acquired its own momentum. In desperation, Benazir agreed to support Gen. Musharraf in the Presidential election in return for giving her indemnity against corruption charges.

According to media reports, the Musharraf-Bhutto agreement, in the form of a “national reconciliation ordinance,” is likely to grant indemnity to all those who held public office or were in Government service between 1985 and 17 November 1999 and against whom cases were registered but who have not yet been convicted.

In these circumstances, Nawaz Sharif may also have to be exempted from graft charges like in the case of Benazir Bhutto. But as this exemption from graft charges appears to be not applicable to Nawaz Sharif presently it indicates another legal battle. One can also expect that if Nawaz Sharif’s exile in Saudi Arabia comes to an end before the next National Assembly elections scheduled for early 2008, the fate of various political parties supporting Gen. Musharraf and Benazir would be uncertain.

Also, there is bound to be realignment of various political parties. Already, Nawaz Sharif’s wife, Kulsum Sharif, is expected to come back to Pakistan before end October and lead the Association for Movement of Restoration of Democracy. In such a situation one can envisage political chaos in Pakistan.

Lastly, the role played by the US in the ongoing political drama appears to have undermined Gen. Musharraf’s authority already. By publicly acknowledging Washington’s role in negotiating a pact between him and Benazir, clearly indicates that the US role in Pakistani politics can not be diluted.

Whether this power sharing between Musharraf and Benazir brokered by the US will be on the same lines like in 1988 is yet to be seen. If it is on the same lines i.e. with the Foreign and Defence portfolios manned by the Armed Forces or its nominees, it is bound to create considerable amount of friction between the Armed Forces and the Executive.

Besides, Benazir’s understanding with Gen. Musharraf has sufficiently undermined her charisma in Pakistan. A leader who is in exile and away from people for almost a decade is not expected to win a thumping majority in any election, if the election is fair and transparent.

Added to it, Gen, Musharraf’s popularity itself is dwindling and Benazir’s deal with him has further eroded his credibility. According to some observers, Benazir’s PPP may not get more than 50 seats in the forthcoming elections for the National Assembly when they are held.

In this emerging uncertain scenario in Pakistan, observers feel that there is a possibility of another round of Martial Law in the next few months. The question that is being debated is whether it will be peaceful like in the past military coups or will it be a violent one?

Going by the past history, three of the four military dictators in Pakistan came to power in a bloodless coup. But Gen. Zia went a step further.  After coming to power through a bloodless coup, he later hanged the ousted Prime Minister Z.A.Bhutto.

Even Gen. Musharraf who was selected as Chief of Army Staff by Nawaz Sharif as a trusted and loyal person, decided to capture power in October 1999. He too thought of doing the same to the Prime Minister like his predecessor Gen. Zia had done. It is a different story why Nawaz Sharif was not hanged.

Interestingly, in this new situation in Pakistan both the President-elect and the Chief of Army Staff-designate are from the army and wield considerable clout in the Armed Forces. They may not allow political parties to lead the country in to a chaotic situation. Many observers feel who so ever is supported by the Armed Forces will rule Pakistan in the coming days.

Even then one can not ignore the fact, that the Pakistani Armed Forces are no longer monolithic like in the past. The failure in their campaign against radical Islamic groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and places like Waziristan is due to the Armed Forces unwillingness to fight against their brethren with whom they had fought side by side against the Red Army in 1980s.

Already there are media reports about the emergence of the al-Qauidistan in the FATA area of Pakistan. In these uncertain times another division of Pakistan seems to be quiet possible.

Thus, in these circumstances, it remains to be seen whether Gen. Musharraf elected as President in the dubious election of 6 October, will be able to hold Pakistan together. This is the million dollar question. ---- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)



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