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Saturday, August 18, 2007

The General’s Siege Within
Musharraf’s re-election is getting more difficult now that Chief Justice Chaudhry is back. He might have no option but to clamp an emergency, says Wahid Abbasi
Beleaguered, unsure and uncertain, is how insiders describe the position of President General Pervez Musharraf after the Supreme Court’s July 20 judgement reinstating Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and dismissing the Presidential reference against him.
What has made Musharraf’s position particularly vulnerable is that his tenure as President is about to expire and he must seek re-election by next month. His earlier plan to have himself re-elected in uniform by the present Assemblies has now become uncertain with open threats from the Opposition and the formidable lawyers lobby that would challenge it in the Supreme Court.
Addressing a press conference, the Supreme Court Bar Association Secretary, Zulfiqar Bukhari, said that even if Musharraf doffs his uniform he cannot contest election for two years according to Article 63 of the Constitution. With a now independent Supreme Court headed by a proactive and unpredictable chief justice, a big question mark hangs over Musharraf’s earlier plans. He is now desperately looking for support. The President eschewed his pride and held a secret meeting in Dubai with Benazir Bhutto whom he has time and again described as a plunderer in the past. Next, he dashed to Saudi Arabia reportedly to ask King Abdullah to use his influence to stop ex-pm Nawaz Sharif from returning to Pakistan, a request that the King is said to have politely declined.
Meanwhile, the Sharif brothers have filed a petition before the Supreme Court reasserting their right to return to the country from a government-imposed exile. The government is now making frantic efforts to block their return. Three cases of corruption against the Sharifs have been reopened by the National Accountability Bureau. Another failed attempt was to impose an Emergency to suspend some of the powers of the Supreme Court. But pressure from the United States and the very real possibility of the Emergency being challenged before the Supreme Court compelled Musharraf to withhold the announcement, though observers were sure that the President’s sudden decision to stay back from the Kabul jirga was taken only to clamp an Emergency. However, if one were to believe the ruling Pakistan Muslim League president, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the Emergency option is still open.
Musharraf now depends for his survival on the support of the US and the ruling coalition parties, namely the pml(q), pml(Functional) of Pir Pagara, the ppp faction led by Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao (which broke away from Bhutto in 2002) and the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement of Altaf Hussain. But Bhutto has imposed too many conditions for the alliance. The most difficult one for Musharraf is her demand that he give up his uniform. Her other demand is that cases against her should be withdrawn so that she could return to Pakistan and take part in the elections. This condition is not acceptable to many in Musharraf’s camp and if accepted it could lead to a division within the pml(q), the main party in the ruling coalition. Moreover, there is serious opposition within Benazir’s ppp too to any deal with the embattled General. Some of the ppp leaders who have become powerful in their own right, such as Chief Justice Chaudhry’s defence counsel in the Presidential reference case, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, have been openly opposing any alliance with Musharraf. Musharraf has also created serious doubts about the likely deal with Bhutto by opposing her return, as well as of Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain, to the country before elections.
The exiled leader Altaf Hussain and his Muttaheda Qaumi Movement, the main political force in Karachi and the only political party that is said to be solidly behind Musharraf, is being held responsible for the May 12 carnage in Karachi. The Sindh High Court has started a suo moto inquiry into the killings and has asked the President to explain his statement commending the mqm’s show of strength that culminated in the killings. It is likely that Altaf’s party, which is virtually ruling the Sindh province right now, could be censured in the case.
Some analysts say that Musharraf’s control over the military remains limited to certain top commanders and units, raising worries about whether he can maintain control over the army for long. The decision to impose an Emergency, which was touted by official circles as a “lesser evil than martial law”, was taken at a meeting of the top Army brass that Musharraf chaired. The meeting was also attended by the intelligence chiefs, Musharraf’s close aides and the legal crutch of all military rulers, Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada. The meeting was held in the Prime Minister’s house late at night when the Emergency news leaked out. It is reported that Pirzada was giving last touches to the Emergency proclamation when Musharraf called it off for the time being. Two phone calls from Condoleezza Rice to Musharraf are said to have persuaded him to withhold the Emergency proclamation.
Reports suggest that the US wants “free and fair” elections in Pakistan but at the same time fears the outcome of a change in presidency in view of the danger of extremists taking hold of the country’s nuclear assets. Musharraf, too well aware of the US’s support for himself, has been making all-out efforts to give the US an impression that he is indispensable to them as an ally in their war on terror. Last week he called a meeting of the Pakistan Nuclear Command Council in an apparent move to send signals to the West that he is in full control of “everything”. However, after the cj’s reinstatement by the Supreme Court, which coincided with the Lal Masjid operation that has led to violent reactions from the extremists resulting in the killing of over 200 troops in different suicide attacks and bomb blasts across Pakistan, circumstances have been turning hostile to Musharraf day by day. In this backdrop, the only positive development for him has been his success in dividing Bhutto and Sharif.
Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain has hinted that the decision to slap Emergency in the country still looms large. Most pml-q leaders confirmed that the option of imposing Emergency still holds good with “ifs and buts”. Minister of State for Information, Tariq Azeem, said: “You can never say ‘never’, as the option of Emergency exists in the Constitution.” The recently-freed Javed Hashmi, acting chief of the pml (Nawaz), says that Musharraf has no options left now. A similar observation was made by veteran diplomat and former Ambassador to the US, Tariq Fatemi, who said that “President Musharraf appears lost, confused and unsure of himself.”
The worst case scenario that many fear is the appearance of another General on the scene, a la Gen Yahya Khan on the fall of Ayub Khan, and yet another stint of martial law in the country. Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, Maulana Fazlur Rahman of the mma, has also given vent to this fear more than once in recent days. Similar fears have been expressed by The Times in London recently. The paper said in a report last week that a new army leader in Pakistan might ask Senate Chairman Mohammadmian Soomro to take over as acting president till new elections are held in the country, as happened in 1988 after the departure of General Zia-ul-Haq from the scene. Musharraf’s testing times could just get tougher.
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1 comment:

Eugene said...

Consider this, too