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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Musharraf: “Call me ‘MR. President’ on Thursday”
November 26, 2007 ·
Okay, now it’s going to get interesting. Dawn, the Times of London, and The Guardian report that Pervez Musharraf will retire from the Pakistani army on Wednesday to take the presidential oath as a civilian on Thursday. According to Dawn, his attorney general, Malik Qayyum, also announced that emergency rule “was likely to be lifted before general elections scheduled for January 8, but a decision in this regard would be taken by the president himself.”
The Guardian says that Nawaz Sharif, having returned to Lahore yesterday from exile, registered as a candidate in the January elections today — as Benazir Bhutto did yesterday. Both claim their parties may yet boycott the vote, though Sharif said, “We don’t want to boycott elections, but if you push someone to the wall … what options are left? We demand restoration of all judges, lifting of curbs on media, lifting of emergency before elections.”
Nor will he make any sort of deal with Musharraf: “My party will not become part of any coalition government under President Musharraf in future,” he said. “We believe that any government serving under Musharraf will be illegal and undemocratic.”
Sharif and Bhutto do NOT rule out an alliance between the two of them, however. “We are ready to talk to any moderate party to find common ground and to continue our struggle for democracy,” Bhutto said. ToL’s Zaid Hussain writes that she also said, “We are concerned that elections will be rigged but we don’t want to leave the field empty,” and that she’d decide whether to take part in the vote after consulting other opposition parties. She claimed to have “placed her application in order to prevent the field being left open for pro-Musharraf parties.”
Omar Waraich
writes in The Independent that
When Mr Sharif, the head of the Pakistan Muslim League, and his brother, Shahbaz, appeared, the crowds broke out into exultant cheers of “Nawaz Sharif Prime Minister” and “Musharraf is a dog”. A sweaty and clearly emotional Mr Sharif then mounted a platform to denounce “dictatorship”. He declared: “I have no lust for any post or power. I have come to serve the people and save Pakistan.” [lotus aside: Just think — with a straight face, he said that.] He also called for the state of emergency declared on 3 November by President Musharraf to be lifted.
If Sharif’s popularity is a problem for Musharraf, it’s equally one for Bhutto. Waraich reports that recent opinion polling shows his support growing — probably because he, unlike Bhutto, has always refused to countenance a deal with Musharraf.
Speaking of whom . . . according to Zaid Hussain,
The loss of his uniform - and his main powerbase - is likely to pose a serious challenge to General Musharraf, with most analysts doubting that he would continue to hold the support of the army upon becoming a civilian ruler.
another ToL piece (featuring a photo we could call “Sharif rampant”), Hussain switches from reporter to analyst to depict Musharraf as too weak to withstand the Saudi royal family’s pressure to allow Sharif back into Pakistan. Whether that’s also “too weak to control him once in” is a different question, of course. Especially with his own private Supreme Court watching his back, Musharraf may have ways of seeing to it that, registered or no, Sharif won’t be able to contest the election. As Hussain observes,
In the aftermath of the [1999] military coup [Sharif] was sentenced to life in prison for a variety of offences and convicted criminals are barred from taking part in Pakistani elections.
Legal wrangles will continue over his right to stand for office but one thing is certain – there is no chance of any compromise or reconciliation between the two men. It is all out war.
In other words, it’s quite likely that, come Thursday, neither Pervez Musharraf nor Benazir Bhutto nor Nawaz Sharif will be the most powerful person in Pakistan. That title will much more probably belong to Gen. Ashraf Kiyani, who’ll have been head of the army for 24 hours by then. And what that’s going to lead to, I won’t try to guess.

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