Friday, January 25, 2008

Musharraf Faces Dwindling Options

Musharraf’s window for a graceful exit seems to be closing fast.

For the time being, at least, the attempt to lure Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N into a pre-election government of national unity has failed .

Perhaps the Sharif brothers decided that accepting Musharraf’s offer would have been calamitous for their party’s credibility as an opposition force (for a taste of the indignation that the rumored deal aroused—and the phone numbers of what must be every PML-N bigwig, including Shahbaz Sharif’s in London—check out this post on the Pakistan democracy movement website Emergency Times).

Adding to Musharraf’s woes, McClatchy reports on a letter calling on him to step down, signed by about 100 retired officers:

The letter said the officers voiced "great concern and anguish" during discussions about the "prevailing conditions" in the country.

Some of the officers had signed statements against Musharraf before, but never in such numbers.

The group, calling itself the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen's Society, said in its statement that it had determined that Musharraf must act quickly.

"He should resign his office of the president. This is in the supreme national interest and makes it incumbent on him to step down," it said.

The letter incensed Musharraf, according to the Financial Times :

“They are insignificant personalities,” the president told the Financial Times in an interview on his arrival at the Davos World Economic Forum. “Most of them are ones who served under me and I kicked them out ... They are insignificant. I am not even bothered by them.”

One of the signatories was ex-ISI chief Hameed Gul, maestro of the Afghan muj uprising against the Soviets, one of the four parties Benazir Bhutto pre-emptively accused of possible complicity in her assassination and, in sum, certainly no handwringing liberal cupcake...or “insignificant personality”.

Gul had this to say about Musharraf in an interview with Islam Online :

"Now, he should sincerely think about the country and quit in a peaceful way.

"No one is ready to trust this man or talk to him. If he is not in the scene, things will automatically be in order peacefully."

Forecast: falling temperatures with a good chance of frost in the Rawalpindi officers club.

I think the only thing that could save Musharraf—or, at least, allow him to exit the presidency gracefully and without the cloud of impeachment and indictment over his head—is an internationally and domestically recognized hung parliament i.e. a parliament without a sizable majority openly opposed to his continued rule, in which Musharraf can assert his continued political relevance by orchestrating the bloc of votes controlled by the pro-government PML-Q.

The falling away of Musharraf’s possible allies of necessity and convenience—the PML-N and the military—are perhaps the best indication that the possibility of this outcome is increasingly and dangerously remote.

Imran Khan, leader of a small opposition party, upheld his reputation as the rare voice of honesty and objectivity in Pakistan’s politics, stating that the country—and the president--both need a way out of the Musharraf cul de sac:

Mr Khan, who was briefing the media on his meetings with US lawmakers and officials on Thursday, said after his dispute with the judiciary in March, President Musharraf had taken several unfortunate steps that had blocked all exit routes for him.

“And it will be good for him and for the country, if all the parties get together and find a way out for him,” said Mr Khan.

The army is probably warming to this conclusion, given the disquieting rumbles of a color-coded revolution against Musharraf, threatened by the PPP if it doesn't get the parliamentary seats it believes its electoral standing merits.

The army’s role—and stake—in Pakistan’s affairs are way bigger than Pervez Musharraf.

At this juncture the army might sacrifice Musharraf in order to permit the PML-N—which continues to display intransigent opposition to Musharraf’s presidency but is not talking about short-circuiting the political process with people power—to enter the government prior to the parliamentary elections and delay the poll while reconstituting a non-partisan electoral commission, thereby blunting the electoral challenge of the energized and assertive PPP.

Whatever plans the army has for confronting—or accommodating-- the challenge from the opposition parties and maintaining its hegemony, they are now less likely to include Musharraf.


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