Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Moment of Clarity for Pakistan

For those of you keeping score, the United States has been pushing Bhutto-Musharraf power-sharing in order to broaden the base of Musharraf’s support.

Musharraf’s fan club has shrunk to the military core after a series of political mis-steps, so that vote-rigging any significant success for his PML-Q party in the upcoming parliamentary elections would have been greeted with disbelief, derision, and outrage.

Bhutto was supposed to come in, lead her PPP to contest the parliamentary elections, emerge with enough support to form a coalition with Musharraf’s party, lead the government as PM and provide a meaningful civilian endorsement of Musharraf’s rule as president.

And the coalition of Islamicist parties, the MMA, would be kept safely in minority opposition status and unable to play any significant power-broker role.

The objective has, as the term indicates, always been power-sharing—keeping Musharraf in power and giving Bhutto a piece of the pie in return for her support.

Not democracy.

Which is why the United States and Bhutto have essentially turned a blind eye toward Musharraf’s ham-fisted efforts to destroy the genuine constitutional and democratic opposition to his rule: Pakistan’s independent judiciary and its lawyers.

The narrative got confusing for a while. The power sharing arrangement hit a bump in the road when Musharraf declared a State of Emergency to prevent the Supreme Court from disallowing his second term as president.

Bhutto adopted the rhetoric and tactics of the democracy movement to improve her political standing inside Pakistan and increase her leverage on Musharraf.

But now clarity emerges. The deal is just about done.

Msuharraf’s new, improved, and hand-packed Supreme Court (still, I believe, one member short since his regime has been unable to find enough cooperative jurists to staff it) first threw out the petitions challenging the presidential elections.

(It wasn’t necessary to throw out the one filed by Bhutto’s PPP, since they declined to argue their case.)

Nary a peep from the United States or Benazir Bhutto.

Today, additional legerdemain:

via AFP:

Musharraf moved to give a solid legal footing to his November 3 declaration of a state of emergency, issuing an amendment to the constitution which says it cannot be over-ruled in court.
Musharraf has pledged to quit the army as soon as the Supreme Court -- now stuffed with selected judges -- dismisses all the challenges, and Wednesday's ordinance could accelerate the process by shoring up his legal position.

Qayyum said the presidential order "has ratified and validated the action taken on November 3."

Musharraf amended the constitution by fiat.

Solid legal footing, indeed.

The current state of affairs may be good enough for Benazir Bhutto.

Via AP :

Bhutto said late Tuesday that it would be a "good sign" if Musharraf quits his army post, and avoided criticizing him directly. She said her party needed a few more days to decide whether to boycott the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections.

...though I’m sure a factor in her deliberations is how well her party is really going to do in the elections now that she has done a pretty good job of burning her bridges with Musharraf, whose political apparatus will probably have a say in how many votes she gets, and where.

But no place at the table, I think, for Nawaz Sharif. It seems Musharraf has been able to convince the United States that injecting one ambitious émigré—Bhutto—into the volatile mix of Pakistani politics is more than enough.

AP again:

Musharraf flew back [to Pakistan] early Wednesday after meeting with Saudi King Abdullah. Saudi officials said efforts had been made to arrange a meeting between Musharraf and Sharif, who was ousted as prime minister by the general's 1999 coup.

A Pakistani official said Musharraf's goal was to prevent Sharif from returning before the parliamentary elections. Sharif's party suggested he had snubbed the general.

Meanwhile, the kabuki theater of releasing detained politicians proceeds, and Musharraf gains the White House seal of approval.

AP again:

Authorities on Tuesday set general elections for January 8 and announced the release of more than 3,400 prisoners detained under emergency rule, with another 2,000 to be freed "soon."
That step was welcomed by US President George W. Bush who said Musharraf -- a key ally in the fight against Islamic extremism -- "hasn't crossed the line" where he would lose Washington's support.

"I think he truly is somebody who believes in democracy," Bush told the US television network ABC.

He voiced confidence that Musharraf would restore democracy, saying he had always found him to be "a man of his word."

In other news, Musharraf, that believer in democracy, continues nailing the genuinely democratic force within Pakistan—the judiciary and lawyers—that might interfere with the staged parliamentary elections meant to consecrate the power-sharing deal (AP again):

Meanwhile, there were fresh arrests Wednesday. Wajihuddin Ahmed, a former Supreme Court judge who was the only candidate against Musharraf in the October presidential election, was taken into custody in Islamabad along with Athar Minallah, an opposition lawyer.

"They were driving a car when men in plainclothes stopped them," said Minallah's wife, Ghazala. "We do not know where they have been taken."

It looks like the grand U.S. plan for Pakistan is not going to result in greater stability or democracy.

Turning a blind eye to the suppression of the judiciary and the shredding of the constitution is not going to enhance the popular stature of Musharraf, Bhutto, or the United States.

Using a rigged election to pack Parliament with Bhutto supporters may wean Musharraf away from the Islamic parties and encourage him to confront instead of conciliate them.

But the rickety and illegitimate power-sharing deal that will put them there may cause a popular backlash and exacerbate the problems it was meant to solve.

And, even if Musharraf no longer needs the Islamicist parties in parliament, the facts on the ground in the Northwest—and the understandable unwillingness of Pakistan’s armies to conduct the full-spectrum counterinsurgency that the U.S. is demanding—are unlikely to change.

At first, I thought l there might be a grander U.S. purpose at work: restructuring Pakistan’s politics to put civilians instead of the military at its center; goading the military into more enthusiastic prosecution of the counterinsurgency and anti-al Qaeda operations on the border; supplanting China as the great power at the center of Pakistan’s affections; or even a rapprochement between Pakistan and India.

Maybe there was.

But whatever the original plans, dreams, and theories; the fine-sounding pretexts we’re using to sell the idea; or the energetic spinning by Bhutto’s supporters, the end result looks like little more than a convoluted backroomdeal that gets Musharraf another term in office, albeit complemented with a pro-U.S. parliamentary coalition.

We'll have to see if that represents progress, either for Pakistan or the United States.

Ken Fireman at Bloomberg, in an otherwise befuddled article that illustrates the contradictions inherent in misconstruing a power-sharing deal imposed by the United States as a democratic movement supposedly led by Benazir Bhutto, delivered this money quote:

Kamran Shafi, a retired Pakistani army officer and Bhutto's former press secretary, said Musharraf is increasingly perceived as a ``Pakistani Tonto'' who has been ``riding shotgun for the policies of a very stupid U.S. administration.'’

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