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Monday, July 30, 2007



President General Pervez Musharraf is confronted with two important issues:

How to mould the future political set-up?

To confront and to tackling the evolving constitutional Crisis, the country is heading towards, in the backdrop of the authoritative pronouncement by the Honorable Full Court headed by Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday, holding the Presidential action against the Chief Justice of Pakistan, ab initio, null and void and restoring the Chief Justice of Pakistan to his constitutional position.

Before we proceed to discuss various options available to General Musharraf in the current political situation, it would be appropriate to remind ourselves of the following facts:

Presidential election is due between 16 September and 15 October 2007.

The term of present assemblies is to expire on 15 November 2007.

President Musharraf’s foremost objective is to get himself elected for a further five-year term in uniform, along with a supportive political party or coalition commanding majority in the parliament and a pliable prime minister in office.

Before the onset of the judicial crisis General Musharraf’s game plan appeared to be simple:

To get himself elected for the next term from the present assemblies.

To resort to covert management of instruments of the state, to return the PML (Q) and its allies to the assemblies in a majority in the general elections.

Since the opposition parties seemed ineffective in mobilizing the masses, it was expected that the plan would work. The judicial crisis has brought about a qualitative change in that political scenario:

Presidential reference against the Chief justice was, since its inception, widely perceived as mala fide and General Musharraf and the PML (Q), besides, his Legal Eagles and magicians failed to dispel that impression.

While the common men was made to view the Lal Mosque and Madrassah-e-Hafsa issue, from one’s belief system, varying from religious to secular or one’s political hailing. The new breed of Liberal extremists and zealots led every one the dark alley by design. The trends showed fragility of, an otherwise closely knit society/nation, having in common, Nationhood, Economic interdependence, opportunities, aspirations and identity. However, the Lal Masjid did have the potential of even overshadowing, the then, unfolding Judicial Crisis with horrendous cost and consequences for the Country.

This is what, perhaps was destined. The potential of Lal Masjid and Madarssah-e-Hafsa of hyper balling and spiraling into societal clashes and major threat to internal security, was exploited by the vested interest from our neighborhood. Lal Masjid stand off was the decoy setup by the one player and we walked right into it, ensnared by a different and more lethal player, the fringe and marginalized extremist, albeit both of alien origin.

Besides, it has to be factored in that to make us walk into such volatile initiatives, had been designed and exploited by elements those are opposed to present state policies, particularly the happenings involving Foreign Extremists and their internal and external supporters.

There seems to be method in madness in the manifestation of violence, by so called sectarian elements and those opposed to the government, Taliban or Tribals and their guests, in some parts of NWFP and Northern Area and now its spillover into Capital City.

Neither does General Musharraf nor does the PML (Q) radiate ample confidence. The government appears to be in a limbo and a house divided.

Benazir Bhutto, summit or no summit, has made it absolutely clear that the PPP is not going to accept General Musharraf as president in uniform. While Nawaz Sharif has closed the doors by declaring that it would amount to an act of treason to negotiate with General Musharraf.

Benazir Bhutto has proved to be, as President Musharraf claims to be, the ultimate pragmatist and seems to have in view the big picture. She has been conceding that to deal with Musharraf, would be a bitter pill. Same may be true of President Musharraf. Strange but capable …fellows!

Under the circumstances, if General Musharraf intends to continue as president in uniform he can do so only by taking extreme steps or risky measures:

General Musharraf may issue a proclamation of emergency, put the Constitution into abeyance and promulgate a provisional constitutional order. In other words, he may impose martial law. But this would be a sure recipe for disaster. No chief of army staff is likely to succeed in subverting the Constitution a second time, particularly given the current environment in the country and the mood within the Judiciary. Neither, he enjoys popular support or favor from his own constituency for, such. Even otherwise, any deviation, inherently calls for new player. No one has the stomach for it.

General Musharraf may try to implement his earlier plan and offer himself for election by the present assemblies. This plan had possibility of success only if the opposition parties were to restrict themselves to making noises in the assemblies or the media. However, it is obvious that they resign from the assemblies and the presidential election would be reduced to a farce.

The MMA, as already, threatened by its leader Munawwar Hasan and reiterated by others, may quit the Balochistan government, leading to imposition of governor’s rule in the disturbed province, and the MMA chief minister of the NWFP may advise the Governor to dissolve the provincial assembly, rendering the Electoral College for presidential election incomplete and defective.

If presidential election is not held in time due to unforeseen circumstances, General Musharraf would have to step down as president and the Chairman of Senate would assume the office as acting president on 15 November 2007.

General Musharraf may arrange for dissolution of the present assemblies latest by mid August 2007, holds general elections, in the misplaced belief that the PML (Q) and its allies would return in majority in the assemblies. The new assemblies may then elect General Musharraf as president in uniform.

But this option is also fraught with a grave danger. Such an action is going to result in an outburst of popular support for opposition parties, in particular the PPP, which has a solid vote bank and had secured highest number of votes in the controversial general elections of 2002. Even it may be a repeat of 1977. Besides, to give such unbelievable out come may be beyond the pale and capacity of the traditional players. There is a limit, even, to management capacity of state machinery.

General Musharraf must realize that the opposition parties are no more in a subdued position. His government-managed public meetings were no answer to opposition demonstrations those were taking place. He should come to term with the realities and explore options other than those mentioned above.

For him a more sensible course would be:

To hold presidential election after parliamentary elections and prepare to seek election as president without uniform.

If the constitutional provisions are not misinterpreted, the presidential election is to take place between 16 September and 15 October 2007. (It may be noted that some Musharraf loyalists misconstrue the constitutional provisions to suggest that his present presidential term had begun after the adoption of the seventeenth amendment to the Constitution i.e., almost a year later, which is ridiculous and absurd.) Therefore, the general elections need to be scheduled latest by end September so that at least some time-gap is left for government-formation and holding of presidential election.

Once General Musharraf gets mentally prepared to give up uniform, he may concentrate on the following steps:

Conclusion of a deal with the political forces that are likely to dominate the next assemblies so as to ensure that he is elected, albeit without uniform, as president for the next term.

Determination of proper time for the dissolution of assemblies and the mode of dissolution and whether by president and governors on their own or upon the advice of the prime minister and the chief ministers.

Setting-up of an interim administration, which may be a multi-party government, a national government or a caretaker government of consensus.

Reconstitution of Election Commission and other necessary measures to ensure holding of fair and transparent general elections.

Preparation of Electoral Rolls as required by Constitution and the Law.

Most important of all is striking a deal with the potentially winning political forces. Other matters may be resolved without much difficulty if this vital issue is taken care of.

Let us explore the possibility of a deal with important political forces:

1. PML (Q): Known as the King’s Party and having a large number of traditional collaborators as its members, it is very much amenable to General Musharraf. However, lately due to the judicial crisis and the talk of a deal with the PPP, some of its leaders are not at ease. General Musharraf may use it as his primary support base and may promote some internal changes in the party to give it a new look. But he cannot completely rely on the strength of the PML (Q) for his election as president.

2. PPP: In any fair general elections the PPP is likely to emerge as the largest party in the National Assembly. General Musharraf’s ‘enlightened moderation’ has much in common with the PPP’s social liberalism, as was evident from the PPP’s support for the Protection of Women Bill. Traditionally the hurdle in forging a deal between the two has been General Musharraf’s uniform and Benazir Bhutto’s insistence that she should be allowed to become prime minister in case the PPP is able to command a majority in the National Assembly.

3. Benazir Bhutto has indicated that her party may consider accepting General Musharraf as president if he gives up uniform. After the seventeenth amendment, the Constitution has become semi-presidential and if Musharraf concedes Benazir Bhutto’s demand, still he would like to retain a vital say in policy matters. Benazir Bhutto has experience of governance under the erstwhile troika system. She is mature and she knows the sensitivities of the armed forces better, in the back drop of regional and International issues confronting the Country.

4. PML (N): Since nearly all the frontline leaders of the PML (N) had joined the PML (Q) after the coup by Musharraf, this party is not very strong. Due to personality clash and ideological differences, General Musharraf is not likely to initiate any meaningful dialogue with it. At one time, an attempt was made to wean Shahbaz Sharif but that overture failed to yield result. However, Nawaz Sharif may be allowed to return and offered a level field. His party may sit on the opposition benches.

5. MMA: Would the MMA remain in tact after the assemblies are dissolved? That is the important question. The JUI may prefer to join hands with the PPP to form a coalition, as Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman too is pragmatic in his own right.

6. The JI in that case is likely to side with the PML (N) and act as an opposition party. Due to the identification of the MMA with the Islamist forces, there cannot be a formal or visible understanding between General Musharraf and that alliance of religious parties.

7. MQM: It would remain with General Musharraf as long as he is in the saddle. It would be prepared to join a coalition with the PPP if General Musharraf strikes a deal with that party.

In a nutshell, the safest bet for General Musharraf is to strike a deal with the PPP and then call general elections. If the Chaudhries of Gujrat are not prepared to go along, PML (Q) may split, With (Humayyun Akhtar) or someone else takes the lead? This may enable Pervez Musharraf to continue as president for next five years.

1. In any case, in the aftermath of the Reinstatement of the Chief Justice, the better sense should prevail and a new beginning in earnest is made by opting for recourse to letter and spirit of the Constitution, political consensus, a level playing field for the political parties and facilitating the coming into being the new government headed by Pervez Musharraf-the President in persona, elected by the People of Pakistan.
2. This would also ensure that the Judiciary is spared the rigors of presiding over decisions in cases, those appear to be Constitutional Issues but in reality are Political. So also the People of Pakistan, the objective, witting or unwitting, of the forces, those want to take the state institutions on the collision course and derail the evolving contours of institutional strength that Pakistan needs above all else. If we were seeing the light, the Judiciary has made a solid beginning. Let each institution do what is prescribed by the Constitution and aspired by the People of Pakistan.

3. If President Musharraf strikes a deal with the PPP and calls early general elections. In that scenario, his position would be safe, despite the reversal of his act of filing the reference against the Chief Justice. As the charge, in that regard, against President General Musharraf has been that he tried to remove the Chief Justice to ensure that there is no judicial objection to his election as president by the present assemblies as Chief of Army Staff. Only he can prove it was not the case.

Even other wise these wrangling about governance should come to an end. It ought to be a wake up call for all of us, given the multi-dimensional issues confronting Pakistan internally and externally.

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