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Thursday, August 2, 2007

US keen on Mush-BB deal
Washington's 'staunch ally' in the War on Terror is facing clamorous opposition at home from both pro-democracy protesters and radical Islamists. The US feels Gen Musharraf can survive in power if he strikes a deal with Ms Benazir Bhutto and makes her Prime MinisterWhy did Pakistan President Parvez Musharraf meet his archrival, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, in Abu Dhabi last Friday and discuss power-sharing arrangements after the general election? Is it because of political expediency, or because of American pressures to mend fences with her? Gen Musharraf, who usurped power in a bloodless coup in 1999, wants to remain President after the election; the Americans, however, are against it. After a series of political mistakes and rising Islamist violence in Pakistan, the General's popularity is at the lowest ebb. Gen Musharraf is being advised that a deal with Ms Bhutto may be the best and perhaps the only option for him to stay in power.
The American interest in a stable Pakistan is clear from US media reports on the Musharraf-Bhutto meeting. These reports say that the Bush Administration believes that if Gen Musharraf continues to insist on ruling Pakistan while remaining Army chief, it will only strengthen religious extremists, while keeping liberal political forces at bay. The US, therefore, would like the moderate and liberal forces to take charge of that nation after the election. The US's official stand after the Musharraf-Bhutto meeting has been that it has no hand in it, though it welcomes the development.
The Abu Dhabi deal appears to be that while Gen Musharraf will continue as President, Ms Bhutto will become Prime minister for the third time by amending the Constitution, which bars a person from holding this office for more than two terms. The relevance of the deal lies in the fact that the US intelligence agencies have, of late, been regularly reporting the expansion of jihadi influence in Pakistan. Washington has made no secret of its interest that Pakistan should have some political stability to continue the global fight against terror.
Since 9/11, US President George W Bush has made it a point to praise the efforts of Gen Musharraf in the War Against Terror. Several top officials from the Bush Administration, besides Congressmen and Senators, have visited Islamabad to seek Pakistan's cooperation in this ongoing war. However, things are not going as per the Bush Administration's plans in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In recent times, Gen Musharraf, too, has been facing serious challenges from Islamist forces, along with the rising pro-democracy movement in that country. Things have worsened after the recent storming of Lal Masjid by the military, besides Gen Musharraf's failed bid to remove the Chief Justice. A weakened military regime in Pakistan does not suit Washington and hence the efforts to bring about a compromise between Ms Bhutto and Gen Musharraf.
Secret parleys encouraged by the Americans have been going on for some time between the two Pakistani leaders. In fact, they are said to have had an unsuccessful meeting in Dubai in January and the last week's meeting was the second to find a compromise. Significantly, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, too, had a detailed meeting with Ms Bhutto to find a way out; he, then, visited Islamabad to brief Gen Musharraf about his talks.
Why has Ms Bhutto, and not Mr Nawaz Sharif, been chosen for special treatment? While Ms Bhutto and Gen Musharraf remain personal foes, the perception is that they share a similar political agenda, including better ties with the US and anti-Islamist postures. In the 2002 general election, Ms Bhutto's party won 28 per cent votes. Besides, she has been making the right kind of noises these past few months.
The secret parleys have been going on for almost a year between Gen Musharraf and Ms Bhutto. The Bush Administration is under tremendous pressure to deliver goods in the election year as it is facing flak from its Democratic rivals on the Iraq issue. So, it is only natural that the advisers of Mr Bush may have wanted to enlist the support of other democratic forces in Pakistan - and Ms Bhutto has been the obvious choice.
However, things are not as smooth as they appear. For, Ms Bhutto has her own conditions: First, Gen Musharraf should discard the power to dismiss the Prime Minister or dissolve Parliament; and, second, he should cast off his uniform.
Constitutionally, Gen Musharraf can retain his uniform until the end of this year. Though Gen Musharraf is not very enthusiastic, he is willing to consider withdrawing the cases against Ms Bhutto, besides paving the way to the Prime Minister's post. If Gen Musharraf does not discard his uniform, Ms Bhutto will only be a rubber stamp Prime Minister. If he discards his uniform, she will take credit for it and become more aggressive.

There are many ifs and buts before the deal goes through. One has to see how other political parties view the deal. The US, too, is keeping a close watch.

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