Friday, February 22, 2008

Pakistan Politics: Zardari Deals While Washington Fumes

Pakistan’s two main opposition parties, the PPP and the PML-N, have agreed to form a coalition government.

The fate of the judiciary and Musharraf have not been clearly addressed, so it’s not clear if this is a lasting coalition or a superficial and tactical alliance.

But simply the fact that Asif Zardari and the PPP have announced a coalition with Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N—an arrangement that is wildly popular within Pakistan but is detested by the United States—is a sign that the PPP has slipped the leash from the United States and our desperate plan to ensure Pervez Musharraf’s survival as president of Pakistan through an alliance with the PPP is about to come to naught.

Asif Zardari might well be turning his back on the bargain Washington made with Benazir Bhutto—our backing in return for her promise to enter a coalition with Musharraf —that brought his wife back to Pakistan and vaulted him to political power.

Maybe Zardari decided to screw Washington instead of Pakistan.

If so, good for him!

No doubt the Bush administration is angrily muttering Sellout! under its breath and envisioning a cavalcade of political catastrophes in the train of the coalition with the PML-N, starting with support of the lawyers’ movement and ending with the resignation of Musharraf.

Hardliners in the White House are probably also muttering Heckuva job, Zalmay! to U.N. Ambassador Khalilzad and the collection of geopolitical geniuses in the State Department who thought that returning Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan would strengthen Musharraf.

According to The News :

Nawaz Sharif maintained that there is no difference in the two parties on the restoration of the deposed judges.“We accept the mandate of PPP with an open heart and wish that PPP complete its five year term,” he said, adding, “struggle for restoration of judiciary will continue and CoD [Charter of Democracy] will also be followed.”

PPP Co-Chairman, Asif Zardari said PPP and PML-N have decided to work together for democracy. However, he said, some of the matter are yet to be decided by the parties.

It would surprise me if the PML-N continues in the coalition if Musharraf remains in the presidency and the pre-November 3 judiciary is not restored, especially in the light of news reports like this :

Mr Sharif informed the CWC [PML-N Central Working Committee] and newly-elected MNAs [Members of the National Assembly] that reinstatement of judges of superior courts was a cornerstone of the party’s policy and there would be no compromise on the issue.

... the party had adopted a unanimous resolution, asking President Gen (retd) Pervez Mushararf to step down. The resolution said that President Musharraf had himself announced that he would resign from the office if his popularity went down. He said the party believed that after the Feb 18 elections, it was time for President Musharraf to quit because that was also in the best interest of the nation.

As I previously argued, Sharif’s positions on the judges and Musharraf don’t stem from his desire for revenge against Musharraf, as the Western media sometimes lazily assumes.

Championing democracy, independence of the judiciary, and civilian rule are the cornerstones of Sharif’s efforts to recreate the PML-N as a national electoral powerhouse rivaling the PPP by focusing on issues that resonate with Pakistan’s educated , affluent, and influential classes nationwide.

Sharif is unlikely to squander the considerable political capital he has accumulated over the last three months—and led to the PML-N’s impressive showing in the February 18 elections—by abandoning his demands that the judiciary be restored and Musharraf go.

Especially since the lawyers’ movement, emboldened by the elections, are loudly demanding restoration of the deposed Supreme Court justices and promising to intensify their activities if the purportedly pro-law and pro-democracy parties threaten to cave to Musharraf’s blandishments and U.S. pressure on the issue.

Somebody smuggled a cell phone to deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry (he’s still under house arrest) and he used it for a remote address to a chanting crowd of lawyers from Dawn) :

“The Constitution was amended and emergency was imposed to perpetuate the one-man rule and no subsequent measure could validate them. History would not forgive us if we do not restore the rule of law,” he warned.

Speaking on the occasion, SHCBA president Rasheed A. Razvi said the lawyers would continue their struggle irrespective of any support extended by political parties. He said no political party was in the field when they had started the campaign on March 9, 2007. A majority of parties and, in fact, the entire civil society gathered behind them in due course because they (the lawyers) were fighting for a worthy cause.[emph. added]

Note, by the way, the complete absence of deference to the PPP and the PML-N.

The lawyers started the protest movement against Musharraf early in 2007 and the opposition parties jumped on the bandwagon in order to make political hay going into the elections.

The lawyers’ movement is a constituency that Zardari and Sharif can’t control and, if they don’t support demands to reinstate the judiciary, they can’t accommodate it.

And once the pre-November 3 judiciary is restored, then Musharraf’s continued participation in Pakistan’s political life becomes basically untenable.

Not just because the reconstituted Supreme Court would undoubtedly rule favorably and with alacrity on the lawsuit challenging the validity of Musharraf’s election to the presidency—the threat that Musharraf tried to pre-empt with his imposition of the State of Emergency in the first place--and effect his political demise within a short period of time.

The risks for Musharraf go beyond losing the presidency.

Musharraf’s actions since November 3 are an absolute mare’s nest of illegality and contradiction (a radio interview with Ali Ahsan, son of the leader of the lawyers’ movement, Aitzaz Ahsan, provides an excellent overview of the background and significance of the lawyers’ movement in Pakistani politics).

Musharraf declared a State of Emergency not only to avoid invalidation by the Supreme Court of his election as president. He tried to make his legal position unassailable by a series of hasty, ill-conceived, and clumsily executed constitutional and legal maneuvers.

He removed the justices, detained them—they are still under house arrest—and installed a new slate of justices, some of them eager hacks and some apparently recruited under duress by the intelligence services, without any confirmation process and had them swear an ad hoc oath promising not to challenge his rule or his actions taken under the State of Emergency.

Then the faux Supreme Court obligingly dismissed the case challenging his election without a hearing and validated Musharraf’s presidency.

For good measure, Musharraf then exploited the extra-legal latitude he had extracted from the new court to amend the constitution, removing the right to declare martial law from the army and giving it to the president.

So the lawyers’ movement is not just a matter of giving the real Supreme Court justices their jobs back and then maybe negotiating some national unity deal that lets Musharraf keep the presidency.

Once the restored Supreme Court starts rolling, it will inevitably want to go beyond the election ruling and unwind a set of unconstitutional declarations and actions that corrupted the independence of the judiciary and placed excessive and dangerous powers into the hands of the president.

That would place Musharraf in legal jeopardy beyond simply the loss of his office.

We’re talking criminal charges, possible impeachment, or at the very least a series of negotiations on immunity/amnesty and what kind of governmental role and functions are still permissible for such a profoundly compromised, unpopular, and distrusted president.

It is difficult to see why anyone would want to go through this traumatic and dangerous process (despite his two months’ experience in civilian life, Musharraf is an army man and has stocked the upper ranks with his creatures), driven by an angered and empowered lawyers’ movement, instead of making joint cause among the political parties to remove Musharraf asap and with a minimum of fuss.

Defying the lawyers and keeping in place Musharraf while trying to deal with the extra-legal incubus created by the State of Emergency at the heart of Pakistan’s government is an excessively high price for the PPP to pay for coddling Musharraf or appeasing the United States.

Especially since the lawyers have announced their plans for mass marches and rallies starting March 7 demanding the restoration of the judiciary.

I don’t think that the PPP wants to start its new and improved democratic administration by showcasing the Pakistani contribution to the lexicon of non-lethal force—the laathi charge—to club lawyers in the main square in Islamabad.

Therefore, I think Asif Zardari decided to let the PML-N into the coalition on Sharif’s terms—i.e. by accepting, at least for now, the PML-N’s uncompromising stance on the judges and, by extension, the removal of Musharraf.

In other words, instead of holding firm on the issue of Musharraf’s survival—the thing that apparently still matters most to the United States--Zardari blinked.

A more charitable and accurate interpretation of events is that Zardari is trying to bend U.S. support to Pakistani political realities.

Maybe he’ll even try to persuade Washington to abandon its support of Musharraf.

That’s perhaps the assurance he gave to Sharif in order to bring the PML-N into the coalition.

Jim Lobe has written an article on the the newly vocal and growing Mush Must Go chorus in the U.S. foreign policy sphere.

For the first time, that chorus includes the PPP.

Lobe reported that Hussein Haqqani, the PPP’s flack-in-residence at Boston University, its spokesman to Capitol Hill, and designated quotemeister to the U.S. media, unveiled the current party position in the Wall Street Journal:

The newspaper also published a column by Hussein Haqqani - an adviser to the late PPP leader, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto - demanding that Musharraf "work out an honorable exit or a workable compromise with the opposition."

That, to me, is a clear sign that the PPP wants to abandon its promise to work with Musharraf and call for his ouster instead--even if Asif Zardari is still cautiously hesitating to make an overt demand inside Pakistan for Musharraf to stand down.

The PPP wants to swim with the political tide in Pakistan instead of bending to pressure from Washington.

So it has rejected Washington’s Three No policy—no reform of the judiciary, no resignation of Musharraf, and no alliance with the PML-N.

And now it's that close to being all over for Musharraf and the United States, and the curtain will ring down on America's disastrous foray into Pakistani politics.

The News reported:

ISLAMABAD: The United States has now decided to respect the wishes of Pakistani voters and has finally given a go-ahead to the two main winners to resolve all the issues according to the wishes of their voters, including the issue of the deposed Supreme Court judges. US diplomats, who met some top leaders of PPP and PML-N in the last two days, have conveyed the view that the restoration of the deposed judges was an internal issue of Pakistan and the US would not interfere in any internal political or legal issue. ...

Observers said it was clear that the Zardari-Nawaz alliance announced on Thursday night had forced the US to change its position on supporting Musharraf, who had announced a few days ago that restoration of the judges was not possible.

The last line of the article gives an idea of what Nawaz Sharif brings to the coalition, and who the geopolitical winner might be here. Hint: it's not the United States:

Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari will soon meet again and discuss about a joint meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. They will request Saudi Arabia to help in stabilising the oil prices for two to three years so that the new elected government could have some relief.

image of police officers with laathi sticks from
image of laathi charge from


tariq1654 said...

Its really complicated time for Pakistan. The government has to go a long way for democracy. They are consistently fighting against militants, facing rivals in several territories.
The decision makers should be careful to step further. At least they should not produce any law that is against human wrights (Sharia law).
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