Posts Tagged ‘Nawaz Sharif’

Pakistan cracks down on eve of “long march”

March 11, 2009

Reuters, Wed Mar 11, 2009 4:58am EDT

By Kamran Haider

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Authorities in two Pakistani provinces banned protests and police began rounding up activists on Wednesday, officials said, a day before a rally by lawyers that could challenge the year-old government.

Anti-government lawyers and opposition parties plan to launch a cross-country protest motor convoy, known as a long march, on Thursday.

“It has been done to maintain law and order, so from now there’s a ban on all sorts of processions, protests and congregations for one month,” Farhan Aziz Khawaja, a senior interior department official in Punjab province, told Reuters.

Sindh province banned protests for 15 days, a top official there said.

Despite the bans, protesters vowed to press ahead with their plans peacefully. They are pushing for the reappointment of a former Supreme Court chief justice who then army chief and president Pervez Musharraf dismissed in 2007.

The lawyers, in league with opposition parties which can mobilize their supporters, pose a significant challenge to President Asif Ali Zardari, who has refused to reappoint the former chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The protesters’ convoy of cars and buses is due to set off on Thursday in the southern provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan and reach Punjab on Friday. They aim to begin a sit-in outside parliament in the capital, Islamabad, on Monday.

The protest is one more problem for a civilian government led by Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that took power a year ago and is struggling with economic and security crises.

It comes as the nuclear-armed U.S. ally’s two main parties are at loggerheads over a Supreme Court ruling last month that effectively barred former prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, from contesting elections.

Nawaz Sharif says Zardari was behind the ruling and he has thrown his support behind the protest.

Political worry has weighed on financial markets in recent days, although stocks were flat on Wednesday.

DEFIANT

Tariq Mehmud, a senior lawyer and protest organizer, said the ban on protests would not affect their plans.

“It seems the government is determined to stop the long march … Our plan is in tact. Let’s see what happens,” he said.

Mehmud said police had turned up at his home in Islamabad before dawn aiming to detain him but he managed to slip away. Another protest organizer, Aitzaz Ahsan, said police had come to his home but he was in hiding.

Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, chairman of Sharif’s party, said police had been put under house arrest at his Islamabad home.

“I’m told I have been detained under the maintenance of public order law,” he told Reuters by telephone.

Siddiq-ul-Farooq, a spokesman for Sharif’s party, said scores of their workers had been detained across Punjab.

“We will remain peaceful and will peacefully defy the ban on the long march,” Farooq said.

Sharif was in North West Frontier Province, where he was due to address a rally, while Shahbaz Sharif was due to address a rally in Punjab, party officials said.

Authorities routinely detain opposition leaders and activists in an effort to disrupt protests. Detainees are freed after tension eases.

The government has threatened to prosecute him for sedition if violence erupts during the protest. It has also said the rally will not be allowed into central Islamabad but organizers can use open ground on the city’s outskirts.

Police were seen preparing shipping containers, which are used to block roads, in the city of Rawalpindi, adjacent to Islamabad, witnesses said.

(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Writing by Robert Birsel)

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See also:  Can the Ides of March eliminate Zardocracy: What’s in store for the PPP in Pakistan?

Pakistan anxious as Zardari poised for presidency

September 5, 2008

By Zeeshan Haider

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani legislators are set to elect as president the late Benazir Bhutto’s controversial widower Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday, making a choice many Pakistanis see leading to a fresh phase of political instability.

His wife’s assassination last December and the victory of her grieving party in a February election has catapulted Zardari to the top in Pakistan’s switch to civilian-led democracy after nine years under former army chief and president, Pervez Musharraf.

The presidential vote is a three-way contest, but Zardari’s party and its allies have a clear majority among lawmakers in the two-chamber parliament and four provincial legislatures that make up the electoral college.

Desperate for stability in a nuclear-armed Muslim state whose cooperation is key to victory over al Qaeda and the success of the West’s mission in Afghanistan, the United States is counting on Zardari to keep Pakistan committed to the war on terrorism.

“I will work to defeat the domestic Taliban insurgency and to ensure that Pakistan territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on our neighbours or on NATO forces in Afghanistan,” Zardari said in an article in the Washington Post on Thursday.

The United States doesn’t trust his chief rival Nawaz Sharif, fearing he could pander to Islamists.

The dangers that lie ahead were underscored on Wednesday by an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, a Zardari nominee, that the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for.

IMAGE PROBLEMS

Zardari’s been called a crook, a liar, and held in widespread disdain, and there have even been doubts raised about his mental fitness after the rigours of 11 years spent in jail.

Loyalists say the allegations were politically motivated and powerful media groups were smearing Zardari’s image, while favouring Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew in 1999.

“No one challenges his democratic credentials as head of an elected party, but the personal credibility of Mr. Zardari has become a serious issue,” wrote Shaheen Sehbai, editor of the Jang Group of Newspapers, Pakistan’s largest newspaper group, in The News daily last week.

Zardari’s hesitancy to bring back judges Musharraf dismissed because of fears they could revive corruption cases against him, has not built confidence.

Zardari, who was investment minister in the second government of his slain wife, was released after an eight-year stretch in 2004, but he has never been convicted.

Charges against him and Bhutto were dropped last year under an amnesty introduced by Musharraf for politicians and civil servants as part of an attempt to cut a deal with Bhutto.

Continued  . . .

The forgotten millions

August 31, 2008

As Pakistan’s political leaders wrangle over the small print, the welfare of the country’s people has dropped off the agenda

Last November, I lost a long-standing bet with a friend when General Pervez Musharraf finally relinquished his military role and then embarked on a new term as Pakistan’s civilian president. Up to that point, the idea that he might give up his army uniform had always seemed ludicrous – thus leading me to enter into the bet so confidently.

The end of Benazir Bhutto’s self-imposed exile from Pakistan last October was the turning point in the country’s political rat race. The response by thousands of PPP supporters to her arrival was enough to drive Musharraf to impose a state of emergency.

August 18 this year, however, saw the end of Musharraf’s regime. His haphazard constitutional changes, some of which include the suspension of the judiciary (which is still in turmoil today) and other actions such as the military operation against Red Mosque fundamentalists and the curtailing of high-profile media channels, ended up backfiring.

The ineffectual methods used to quell the uproar after Bhutto’s assassination last December, when the authorities failed to solve the case, contributed to a further fall from grace in the public eye. Towards the end of his regime, the discontent reached its height, turning into an almost unanimous anti-Musharraf campaign in the national media, and exacerbating the civil war raging in the tribal areas.

What of Pakistan’s future now? Since Asif Zardari, Bhutto’s husband and co-chairperson of the Pakistan People’s party (PPP), currently the largest party, has nominated himself for the presidential seat, a new debate has been sparked, with the opposition in uproar. Last Monday, Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Nawaz Sharif parted ways with the PPP, leading to the collapse of the five-month-old coalition government, on the grounds that Zardari had not kept his word regarding the restoration of the judiciary or democracy. An agreement signed on August 7 by the two leaders was also exposed to the public. It clearly stated the executive restoration of the judges would occur one day after the impeachment or resignation of President Musharraf. Zardari, however, employed every delaying tactic at hand to prevent this policy from going through. The accord also stated that once Musharraf was out of the picture, both leaders would put forward nonpartisan candidates for presidency. Asif Zardari went ahead and declared himself a candidate for president without informing or consulting Nawaz Sharif, and announced that the elections would take place on September 6.

The current stalemate between the former allies and the fractured coalition seem to loom larger in politics than the survival of Pakistanis who are unable to cope with massive food and fuel inflation. While the judges and the constitutional bills are lofty policy matters of grave significance, the politicians in the country seem to have lost sight of what image they are portraying both at home and abroad.

With nuclear neighbour India already licking its chops and the US circling, eager to launch an inevitable counter-terrorism campaign in Pakistan, it appears that the country stands closer to decline than ever before, democracy or no democracy. But there are those who dare to hope yet. Hope, even, that there might be a reformation on the horizon, or that after the resolution of conflicts, the country will return to the path of peaceful development. Hope that no foreign conflict lies ahead, and that the dire energy crisis will be resolved within the five to six-year timeline given, or even that there will not still be forces at loggerheads on policy technicalities, skirting the issue of the welfare of the nation. I, for one, am not willing to wager very much on that these hopes will be realised. Are you?

Pakistan: From crisis to crisis

August 27, 2008

Editorial

The Khaleej Times, August 26, 2008

THE more things change in Pakistan, the more they seem to remain the same. It was only six months ago that the people of the South Asian country celebrated when the outcome of February 18 polls brought the two leading parties and bitter rivals together in an unprecedented coalition.

Those polls, conducted in most trying circumstances and the unusual alliance that they created, were seen as a triumph of democracy. That historic alliance is now in tatters, two weeks before the crucial presidential election.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League (N), has finally walked out of the governing coalition with the Pakistan Peoples Party of Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former PM Benazir Bhutto and a contender for the top job now. Sharif’s party has also decided to field Saaeduz Zaman, a former supreme court chief justice, as its own presidential candidate. It must be the shortest political honeymoon ever. So what was seen as a ground breaking alliance was little more than a marriage of convenience!

To be fair to Sharif and his party, the former prime minister gave the government and coalition partner Zardari a long, long rope and at least three deadlines to restore the Supreme Court and high court judges sacked by General Pervez Musharraf following the imposition of Emergency. In spite of numerous meetings and agreements between Sharif and Zardari, there has been no move or initiative by the government and the governing PPP to resolve the judges issue. After all these encounters, Zardari and Sharif appeared together before the media to reiterate their commitment to the restoration of judiciary, democracy and the rule of law.

In fact, the coalition promised to restore the judges within 24 hours of Musharraf’s exit, implying the General was the only hurdle to the restoration of judiciary. It’s been more than a week since Musharraf left the presidency. But Pakistan remains stuck where it had been before the General’s departure with the ruling party offering no signs or hopes of any progress.

What happens now? The government led by the PPP is likely to survive with the support of other minor players like MQM, ANP and JUI. However, with Sharif in opposition and the issue of restoration of judges still hanging fire, the prospects of the current dispensation continuing for long appear rather remote. And yet another general election with a realignment of forces looks imminent in not too distant a future. When that happens, Pakistan’s leaders and politicians will be held to account by the voters. As Benazir Bhutto, the late wife of Zardari, would say: Democracy is the best revenge. That will be especially true when the politicians go back to the voters.

Pakistan in Uncertain Times

August 27, 2008

The Military Waits in the Wings

By DEEPAK TRAPATHI | Counterpunch, August 23/24, 2008

Old enemies seldom make easy bedfellows. This is what we see in Pakistan today. Now that President Pervez Musharraf, once the military strongman, has been forced out, the shaky alliance of the two most powerful civilian politicians, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, is unraveling. The euphoria over the defeat of Musharraf’s party in the February parliamentary elections has evaporated. The aim which had brought Zardari and Sharif together has been achieved. And their old hostilities are, once again, coming to the fore.

I have been an observer of Pakistan’s troubled and unhappy journey for over thirty years. And I must say that the sudden outbreak of hope after the victory for the democratic forces last February had not been seen for a long time in the country. The election result had clear messages from the electorate to those it sees as controlling the destiny of Pakistan. First, to the military, which has ruled the country for more than half of the period since independence in 1947; and which, under General Musharraf, subverted the judiciary above all. Second, to America, whose role in shaping Pakistan’s policies is seen by the electorate as unacceptable interference, exercised through the Bush administration’s proxy, Musharraf.

With Musharraf gone, Washington’s plans in the region are in disarray. Bush, in his final few months in the White House, seems to have decided to deal with Pakistan’s military chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, on matters of collaboration in the ‘war on terror’. After ruling Pakistan from the front for almost a decade, the military has had enough and retreated into the background. However, it continues to be the real center of power behind the cover of a civilian government that survives from day to day.

Earlier, I referred to Zardari and Sharif being old adversaries. So I should give a brief explanation of what lies at the root of their antagonism and distrust. They belong to very different political clans. Sharif was a protégé of the military dictator, General Zia-ul Haq. Under his martial law administration, the Sharif family enjoyed a dramatic rise in its business and political fortunes. Zardari belongs to the Bhutto clan by marriage to Benazir, who was assassinated in December 2007. Sharif is from Punjab, the most populous and wealthy province, which dominates the military hierarchy of Pakistan; Zardari from Sindh, a province with about half the population of Punjab.

In the 1980s, Nawaz Sharif’s political fortunes rose dramatically, starting with his appointment as chief minister of Punjab with the blessings of General Zia. Sharif’s rise continued after Zia’s death in a plane crash in 1988 and, two years later, he rose to be the prime minister of Pakistan. Zia, during his military rule, deposed and then executed the head of the Bhutto clan, Zulfiqar Ali, the elected prime minister of the country. Before Sharif and General Musharraf fell out with each other and Sharif’s government was deposed in a coup in 1999, it was Sharif who was close to the military establishment. The Bhutto clan was the outcast and Benazir and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, spent years in jail.

Memories of his overthrow, and subsequent exile to Saudi Arabia, by Musharraf have made Nawaz Sharif distrustful of the army. Zardari, acknowledging the army’s paramount role in the country’s politics, and encouraged by America, would like to work with it. The two are far more mature, suave and no longer as impetuous as they were in their youth. But that the political fortunes of one were made at the cost of the other remains a fact of history and difficult to forget.

Against that difficult-to-forget episode of history is the new reality of Pakistan today. The People’s Party led by the Bhutto clan, Benazir’s widower and their teenage son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is the larger party in Parliament and its character is truly national. The main stronghold of the Muslim League faction of Nawaz Sharif is essentially Punjab, the most important province, but not the whole country. It matters at a time when rival forces are pulling the country apart. Some represent Islamic fundamentalism, others secularism; some support a strong center while others demand greater provincial autonomy. Pakistan is more volatile today than at the time of its breakup in 1971, when East Pakistan seceded to become Bangladesh.

As Zardari and Sharif maneuver to consolidate their positions after years in the wilderness, Pakistan struggles with the insurgency that grows day by day and the economic crisis worsen. New questions arise. As Zardari embarks on his quest to become the next president of Pakistan, will he turn the post into that of a constitutional figurehead? Or insist on keeping the powers to dismiss the government, dissolve the parliament and meddle with the judiciary? Will the next president side with the all powerful military and cooperate with the United States in the ‘war on terror’ that caused the downfall of Musharraf? Or work to reduce the role of the army in the running of the country? Will the judges who were dismissed by Musharraf by illegal means be reinstated? Or is the integrity of the judiciaryto remain in tatters? Above all, will the hopes, which the people of Pakistan pinned on the elected politicians, be realized? Or they will, once again, be disappointed. As these and other questions linger, the military will be waiting in the wings.

Deepak Tripathi, a former BBC journalist, is an author and a researcher, with reference to South and West Asia, terrorism and the US. His website is http://deepaktripathi.wordpress.com and he can be reached at DandATripathi@gmail.com.

‘Mr 10 Per Cent’ puts jail behind him and bids to lead Pakistan

August 25, 2008

Asif Ali Zardari, the widowed husband of Benazir Bhutto, is set to take over from the man he forced to resign from office.

By Omar Waraich in Islamabad and Andrew Buncombe | The Independent, Sunday, 24 August 2008

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Less than a year ago Asif Ali Zardari appeared to be yesterday’s man. Seemingly sidelined by his wife, Benazir Bhutto, and her party, facing a series of corruption charges and bearing the nickname “Mr 10 Per Cent”, it appeared that his days of power and influence were over.

Now he is back, as never before. Having been catapulted to the forefront of Pakistan’s political maelstrom by the assassination of his wife, Mr Zardari is poised to become his country’s head of state. At the end of a remarkable week which saw Pervez Musharraf (inset) resign as president to avoid impeachment, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) announced that its chosen candidate to replace him would be Mr Zardari.

The man who spent 11 years in jail over corruption charges he claims were politically motivated, yesterday confirmed he would take the post. It would have been remarkable if the party he has led since his wife’s death last December had not agreed to nominate him. Yesterday PPP officials were meeting with coalition partner Nawaz Sharif to try to secure his backing for the nomination. “We want a joint candidate for the race,” said PPP spokesman Jameel Soomro.

Continued . . .

Pakistan coalition faces collapse

August 24, 2008
Al Jazeera, August 24. 2008

Zardari, right, has confirmed that he will stand for Pakistan’s presidency [AFP]

Pakistan’s coalition government is looking increasingly shaky after an aide to Nawaz Sharif, leader of one party in the goverment, said his PML-N party was inclined to pull out.

Pervez Rasheed, a close aide of the former prime minister, said that the party’s leaders would meet on Monday to decide whether to join the opposition amid growing differences with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

“General opinion in the party is in favour of parting ways,” Rasheed told The Associated Press news agency on Sunday.

Sharif has demanded that the PPP agree to reinstate the 60 judges sacked by Pervez Musharraf, the former president who quit last week, by Monday in order to remain united for presidential elections to be held on September 6.

But the PPP under Asif Ali Zardari – who confirmed on Saturday that he would bid to replace Musharraf – has been stalling on the issue.

Sharif demands

Sharif has been asked to support Zardari’s nomination but has made this conditional on the return of the judges and the PPP leader agreeing to limit the powers of the presidency.

He says that Zardari has reneged on a written agreement to restore the judges within 24 hours of Musharraf’s decision on August 18 to quit rather than face impeachment charges.

Siddiqul Farooq, a spokesman for the PML-N said that the issue of whether Zardari would stand for the presidency was the PPP’s “own decision,” not that of the coalition partners, but reiterated his leader’s demands.

“We do not want a civilian president with the same powers that Musharraf had, mainly the power to dissolve parliament,” Farooq said.

“Our top priority is restoration of the judges and we want it done on Monday.”

Analysts say the PPP is reluctant to restore the judges because of concerns the deposed chief justice might take up challenges to an amnesty from corruption charges last year granted to Zardari and other party leaders.

Presidential contest

In a sign that relations between the two sides were becoming increasing fractured, another of Shraif’s aides on Saturday offered to stand for the presidency in opposition of Zardari.

“I am also willing to contest the presidential election, but I am bound to obey what the party decides,” Javed Hashmi, one of Sharif’s most senior aides, said.

Kanwar Dilshad, the election commission secretary, said nomination papers for the presidency can be filed from August 26, with the final date for any withdrawals on August 30.

Under Pakistan’s constitution, a president is elected by members of the country’s four provincial assemblies and the national parliament within 30 days of the post becoming vacant.

The political deadlock is making it increasing difficult for the government to tackle economic problems in the country, unrest in the tribal areas and the growing strength of armed pro-Taliban groups.

American-backed dictator tossed overboard

August 19, 2008

Snehal Shingavi explains why the U.S. could no longer keep its man Musharraf in charge of Pakistan.

Facing impeachment, Pervez Musharraf resigns as president of Pakistan.

Facing impeachment, Pervez Musharraf resigns as president of Pakistan.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF has now joined an infamous legacy of Pakistani military dictators–Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan–who have been forced to resign because of immense popular pressure.

Musharraf resigned from the presidency on August 18 rather than face impending impeachment charges, thanks to a deal brokered by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. While much of the Western media has been preoccupied with what effect his resignation will have on the “war on terror,” they have ignored how Musharraf’s ouster has invigorated the civil society organizations, unions and left-wing groups that took to the streets in celebration of his downfall.

In reality, Musharraf’s resignation is a crisis of the West’s own making. As Musharraf has drawn Pakistan further and further into the U.S.’s imperial designs, popular dissatisfaction has grown with these policies. And in the past few years, Pakistan has seen its economy decline, its acts of terror increase and violations of civil rights rise dramatically.

This is a far cry from the “order” that Musharraf promised when he came to power in 1999. As the chief of staff of the armed forces, Musharraf overthrew then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in a bloodless coup. Sharif’s regime was riddled with corruption. Also, a section of the domestic ruling class chafed at Sharif’s habit of antagonizing the West, first with nuclear weapons tests which incurred sanctions and then by criticizing U.S. foreign policy. But Sharif overplayed his hand. He threatened to oust Musharraf, but was himself forced from office instead.

Once in power, Musharraf immediately began a policy of reorganizing the military and the Pakistani economy. He benefited from a period of economic growth, stimulated in part by India’s booming economy.

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ONE OF the primary reasons that Musharraf lasted as long as he did was because of the role that he played in the U.S. war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Musharraf was initially reluctant to collaborate, given that Pakistan’s fortunes and regional influence had actually been raised as a consequence of the Taliban’s capture of Kabul in the 1990s. But after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush administration needed support from frontline states like Pakistan in order to pull off an invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and hunt Osama bin Laden.

Thus, a combination of threats and economic benefits moved Pakistan more fully into the U.S. orbit. Pakistan’s military bases, intelligence and personnel were made available to the U.S. military. In exchange, the U.S. lifted sanctions on Pakistan and helped steer foreign direct investment into the country. This cooperation with the U.S. war on terror, though, brought Musharraf into immediate conflict with several forces inside of his country.

First, there was the military and intelligence establishment, both of which had been inculcated with Islamic ideology since the military regime of Gen. Zia Ul-Haq, who seized power in 1977 and was killed in 1988. Thus, Musharraf’s about face, turning yesterday’s Muslim allies into today’s terrorist enemies, didn’t sit well with large parts of the military. The army and intelligence operatives responded by only half-heartedly participating in efforts to secure the border, drive out al-Qaeda, close Islamic schools (madrassas) and shut down Islamist outfits.

For example, Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI) did crack down upon some Islamist outfits in the regions bordering Afghanistan–the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Northwest Frontier Provinces (NWFP). Yet at other times it turned a blind eye to such organizations, allowing the Taliban and al-Qaeda to gain strength in the region. But the repression of Islamist movements antagonized Muslim organizations and ordinary Pakistanis, who chafed at the complicity of the Pakistani military in the U.S. imperial project.

Indeed, Musharraf’s cooperation with the U.S. against Afghanistan and Iraq soon turned major Islamic parties and organizations against him. Several attempts were made on Musharraf’s life by suicide bombers and other would-be assassins. The most spectacular confrontation with the Islamists took place last year, in a bloody police operation to oust Islamist militants who the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in the city of Islamabad.

In order to carry out the U.S. war, Musharraf also had to pursue a domestic agenda of neoliberal, pro-business economic policies and the suppression of political freedoms and liberties. The first part of the agenda meant breakneck privatization of state-owned industries at bargain-basement prices, while the second meant that Musharraf routinely suspended the constitution, shut down mainstream media outlets, declared states of emergency and even disappeared political dissidents.

Perhaps the most egregious of Musharraf’s crimes was the political engineering of his tenure as president. The 2002 referendum that Musharraf used to justify his seizing control of the presidency was widely disputed as rigged. Musharraf also angered the judiciary by refusing to resign his position as head of the Pakistani military, despite the fact that the constitution explicitly prohibits the executive from holding a position in the armed forces.

As Musharraf prepared to seek election in 2007, calls for him to resign from the army grew, sparking a protest in the judiciary itself. The election debacle began with the Supreme Court of Pakistan threatening to declare Musharraf’s presidency illegal, and concluded with Musharraf suspending the constitution, firing the judges who opposed him and stacking the judiciary with loyal judges (who still hold their positions). This provoked a massive protest by lawyers, students and ordinary Pakistanis to demand the reinstatement of the judges. Popular dissatisfaction only sharpened.

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THE CONSTITUTIONAL shenanigans of Musharraf allowed the U.S. to engineer the return of Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister and head of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), to contest parliamentary elections. She could have provided the legitimacy that the U.S. needed to conduct its war on terror, but her assassination earlier this year meant that the U.S. would have to cobble together a much more fragile set of allies.

In the wake of Bhutto’s assassination, her PPP won the largest number of seats in the parliamentary elections, followed closely by Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N. The two rival parties formed an uneasy anti-Musharraf coalition government, and it appeared that Musharraf might be able to survive because of the government’s weakness.

By summer, however, the PPP and PML-N closed ranks to push for Musharraf’s impeachment. Next, Pakistan’s four provincial legislatures passed votes of no-confidence in Musharraf. An impeachment proceeding appeared inevitable. So Musharraf agreed to a plan hatched by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia which allowed him to leave his office and potentially accept voluntary exile. In the meantime, the office of the presidency will be assumed temporarily by Mohammadmian Soomro, a Musharraf ally, until the parliament can elect a new president.

The biggest beneficiaries of Musharraf’s resignation will be the PPP, headed by Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N. But Musharraf’s resignation has actually ignited and inspired grassroots activism throughout the country–and unless the judiciary is restored and the economy improves markedly, the instability in the country is not likely to end soon.

Also, the resignation of Musharraf hardly caught the West by surprise. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani of the PPP made a recent trip to Washington with the intention of convincing the Bush regime that the war on terror could be fought without Musharraf at the helm. The U.S., while unhappy at losing a reliable ally, didn’t lift a finger to help Musharraf. The Bush administration realizes that the PPP is willing to play the role the Americans want them to.

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THE U.S. needs continued Pakistani support for a number of political and military objectives. On the one hand, Pakistan’s position as an important Muslim nation allows the U.S. to project the lie that it has regional allies. On the other hand, it needs Pakistan to secure its border with Afghanistan, which has enabled the Taliban and its allies to obtain resources and reach safe havens.

The new civilian government in Pakistan will likely produce some changes in military policy. But these will take some time take effect, and are not likely to be substantial. In fact, both the lawyers’ movement and the PPP have campaigned for Musharraf’s ouster on the basis that they would be better equipped to handle the terrorists without him.

And the problems that Pakistan faces will not be resolved by simply removing Musharraf. Tariq Ali recently explained:

Musharraf’s departure will highlight the problems that confront the country, which is in the grip of a food and power crisis that is creating severe problems in every city. Inflation is out of control and was approaching the 15 percent mark in May 2008. Gas (used for cooking in many homes) prices have risen by 30 percent. Wheat, the staple diet of most people has seen a 20 percent price hike since November 2007, and while the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization admits that the world’s food stocks are at record lows, there is an additional problem in Pakistan. Too much wheat is being smuggled into Afghanistan to serve the needs of the NATO armies. The poor are the worst hit, but middle-class families are also affected and according to a June 2008 survey, 86 percent of Pakistanis find it increasingly difficult to afford flour on a daily basis, for which they blame their own new government.

Some of these economic troubles could have been solved with the extraordinary amount of money that Pakistan spends on its military and the war on terror. But as long as the priorities for Pakistan are determined by what is best for the country’s tiny elite and the U.S. empire, ordinary Pakistanis will continue to suffer.

The hope for real change in Pakistan will depend on whether or not the social movements of the day can seize on the opportunity to advance an altogether different–one that begins with removing Pakistan from the project of building the American empire.

Pakistan: Musharraf balks at plan for ‘graceful exit’ before impeachment

August 16, 2008

Negotiations between the Pakistani government and President Pervez Musharraf, aimed at securing his exit from office before impeachment, are stalling with only days left before proceedings begin in parliament.

The coalition government had hoped to pressure the president to quit, before the messy and possibly dangerous impeachment process formally starts. US and British diplomats have also tried to mediate a compromise to allow Musharraf to “exit gracefully”.

Once a motion is moved in parliament, which is scheduled for early next week, it will be difficult for the administration to let him go. But he is refusing to go down without a fight. He insists that he be given indemnity from any future prosecution and that he will live in Pakistan – terms the government will not meet. While an exit deal is still the most likely outcome, negotiations are going down to the wire.

“We’re hitting a wall now and we’re so close [to impeachment proceedings],” said one senior member of the coalition. “It’s this commando thing of his. His living here would be like a red rag to a bull. He wants to be photographed playing golf and taking it easy.”

The coalition wants Musharraf to leave Pakistan, for at least a year or two, until emotions cool down. In particular, Nawaz Sharif, a coalition leader who was thrown out of office in the coup staged by Musharraf in 1999, would find it personally and politically difficult to have the president in the country, safe from prosecution. The president’s house, which is still under construction, is located just outside Islamabad, so he would be a constant presence.

“Basically, Musharraf is being stubborn; the two sides are playing brinkmanship,” said Najam Sethi, editor of Pakistan’s Daily Times newspaper. “Nawaz Sharif is sitting there, sharpening his knife.”

Musharraf has offered to leave Pakistan for some time, but only after three to six months. He is adamant that, unlike Sharif and the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, he will not be seen to be fleeing the country as soon as he is out of office.

Musharraf’s legal adviser, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, went on a national television programme to suggest that the impeachment proceedings would drag on for months.

“The president has all the options, constitutional and political,” said Pirzada. “All institutions will be seriously damaged [by impeachment], perhaps beyond repair.”

The president’s aides boasted that he would defend himself in the proceedings, not resign. Sharif appears keen to humiliate the president but the prospect of a prolonged trial is what the senior member of the coalition, the Pakistan People’s party, wants to avoid.

The army, Pakistan’s most powerful institution, has said that it would now stay out of politics but it is likely to be appalled by the impeachment proceedings against a former army chief.

“He [Musharraf] may think it is better to go down as president and hope the army bails him out,” said Ikram Sehgal, a political analyst and friend of the president. “This situation is shot with a lot of danger.”

Musharraf to fight impeachment

August 8, 2008
Al Jazeera, Aug 8. 2008

There are fears that further violence could result from the current impasse [AFP]

Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, will defend himself against impeachment, his aides have said.

The announcement came a day after the ruling coalition vowed to launch proceeding to oust him.

Musharraf is set to meet his legal and political advisers on Friday to discuss his options.

“He is considering the options that are available. He will respond to the government’s allegations and defend himself,” a presidential aide told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.

Speculation is rife that he may dissolve parliament or declare another state of emergency, moves set to further deepen the current political turmoil in the strife-torn country.

Meanwhile, Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistan prime minister, is heading to China to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

Musharraf was scheduled to attend the event, but cancelled due to his possible removal from office.

‘Few options’

Tariq Pirzada, a political and strategic affairs anaylst in Islamabad, told Al Jazeera that Musharraf has very few options.

“What we have is a situation where he is isloated, he has no political backing, even the US is not backing him, and labelled the situation as an ‘internal matter’,” he said.

“He is in dire straits, and its either he steps down or faces impeachment.”

The coalition still needs the support of other MPs to oust Musharraf [AFP]

Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, also a former prime minister, announced on Thursday that they would seek Musharraf’s impeachment for allegedly mismanaging the country.

Officials said parliament could begin the impeachment process by filing a charge sheet against Musharraf as early as Monday – which is also Musharraf’s 65th birthday.

The aide who spoke for him said Musharraf would “not wait for the numbers game” – meaning that he would not indulge in political horsetrading to stop the coalition getting the votes it needs.

Under Pakistan’s constitution, impeachment requires a two-thirds majority in the upper and lower houses of parliament.

It would be the first time in Pakistan’s 61-year history that a president has been impeached.

The coalition is currently several seats short of the 295 votes it requires out of the 439 in the senate and national assembly to remove Musharraf.

Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), together with smaller coalition partners, have 266 seats and need a further 29 MPs, mainly from the troubled tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Military support

But the key factor in Musharraf’s decision is likely to be the support he gets from the country’s 500,000-strong army, the leadership of which he gave up last November.

General Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief and Musharraf’s successor, has shown no signs of disloyalty and the military has historically acted to defend the honour of its current and former chiefs.

But Kayani has also appeared keen to keep the army out of politics after six decades in which the military has been in power for more than half the time, damaging its image domestically.

Imposing a state of emergency would require Musharraf to have military support, while dissolving parliament could also cause unrest in a country already suffering from widespread economic problems.


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