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Islam and Politics ( 14 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Musharraf will be gone in days, but don't expect democracy to rush in: the military's habits die hard

By Tariq Ali

Thursday August 14 2008


There is never a dull moment in Pakistan. As the country moved from a moth-eaten dictatorship to a moth-eaten democracy the celebrations were muted. Many citizens wondered whether the change represented a forward movement.


Five months later, the moral climate has deteriorated still further. All the ideals embraced by the hopeful youth and the poor of the country – political morality, legality, civic virtue, food subsidies, freedom and equality of opportunity – once again lie at their feet, broken and scattered. The widower Bhutto and his men are extremely unpopular. The worm-eaten tongues of chameleon politicians and resurrected civil servants are on daily display. Removing Musharraf, who is even more unpopular, might win the politicians badly-needed popular support, but not for long.


As the country celebrated its 61st birthday today, its official president, ex-General Pervez Musharraf, was not allowed to take the salute at the official parade marking the event, while state television discussed plans to impeach him. Within a few days at most, Musharraf will resign and leave the country. Pakistan's venal politicians decided to move against him after the army chief, Ashfaq Kayani, let it be known that there would be no military action to defend his former boss.


Washington followed suit. In Kayani they have a professional and loyal military leader, who they imagine will do their bidding. Earlier John Negroponte had wanted to retain Musharraf as long as Bush was in office, but they decided to let him go. Anne Patterson, the US ambassador, and a few British diplomats working under her, tried to negotiate a deal on behalf of Musharraf, but the politicians were no longer prepared to play ball. They insisted that he must leave the country. Sanctuaries in Manhattan, Texas and the Turkish island of Büyükada are being actively considered. The general would prefer a large estate in Pakistan, preferably near a golf course, but security considerations alone would make that unfeasible. There were three attempts on his life when he was in power and protecting him after he goes would require an expensive security presence. Had Musharraf departed peacefully when his constitutional term expired in November 2007 he would have won some respect. Instead he imposed a state of emergency and sacked the chief justice of the Supreme Court who was hearing a petition challenging Musharraf's position.


Now he is going in disgrace, abandoned by most of his cronies who accumulated land and money during his term and are now moving towards the new powerbrokers. Amidst the hullabaloo there was one hugely diverting moment involving pots and kettles. Two days ago, Asif Zardari, the caretaker-leader of the People's party who runs the government and is the second richest man in the country (from funds he accrued when his late wife was prime minister) accused Musharraf of corruption and siphoning US funds to private bank accounts.


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. The price of gas (used for cooking in many homes) has risen by 30%. Wheat, the staple diet of most people, has seen a 20% price hike since November 2007 and while the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation 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% of Pakistanis find it increasingly difficult to afford flour on a daily basis, for which they blame their own new government.


Other problems persist. The politicians remain divided on the restoration of the judges sacked by Musharraf. The chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is the most respected person in the country. Zardari is reluctant to see him back at the head of the supreme court. A possible compromise might be to offer him the presidency. It would certainly unite the country for a short time. And there is the army. Last month, the country's powerless prime minister, Yousuf Gilani, went on a state visit to the US. On July 29 he was questioned by Richard Haass, president of Council on Foreign Relations:


    Haass: Let me ask the question a different way, then – (laughter) – beyond President Musharraf, which is whether you think now in the army there is a broader acceptance of a more limited role for the army. Do you think now the coming generation of army officers accepts the notion that their proper role is in the barracks rather than in politics?


    Gilani: Certainly, yes. Because of the February 18 election of this year, we have a mandate to the moderate forces, to the democratic forces in Pakistan. And the moderate forces and the democratic forces, they have formed the government. And therefore the people have voted against dictatorship and for democracy, and therefore, in future even the present of – the chief of the army staff is highly professional and is fully supporting the democracy.


This is pure gibberish and convinces nobody. Over the last 50 years the US has worked mainly with the Pakistan army. This has been its preferred instrument. Nothing has changed. The question being asked now is how long it will be before the military is back at the helm.


Tariq Ali's latest book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power will be published in September by Simon and Schuster

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General's long goodbye


BY HASSAN ABBAS (Guardian News Service)

13 August 2008


PERVEZ Musharraf stands virtually alone today while facing the most serious challenge to his presidency: possible impeachment by the new democratically-elected government.


The potential charges are serious: conspiring to destabilise the government that was elected last February, unlawfully removing the country's top judges in November 2007, and failing to provide adequate security to Benazir Bhutto before her assassination last December. Allying himself with the Bush administration has increased his unpopularity, especially following missile attacks by the US in Pakistan's tribal areas.


Despite earlier differences over how to deal with Musharraf, Pakistan's leading political parties are now united against him. Feuding between the Pakistan People's party, led by Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and the Pakistan Muslim League (N), led by Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, had given Musharraf a chance to regain some standing after his allies were defeated in the February elections. American reluctance to abandon Musharraf — together with prolonged electricity shortages, which made the new government appear incompetent — also raised his hopes. Musharraf may be counting on the army, his primary constituency, to bail him out of this crisis. Though such support remains a possibility, it is unlikely that the army leadership will extend itself on his behalf.


Though a protégé of Musharraf, the army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani is a professional soldier for whom the army's institutional interests are more important than the political interests of his former boss. Kayani has repeatedly declared that the army will not interfere in political affairs, and that the parliament and constitution are supreme.


Even if the army is tempted to step in, it has been chastened by political developments during the past year. The entire legal community arose to demand restoration of the country's judges and reinforcement of the rule of law. The public's demand for free elections and the resulting creation of a democratic government have forced the military to accept the public will.  The army has also paid a heavy price for Musharraf's approach to the war on terror. Suicide bombers have struck repeatedly at military installations and personnel around the army's headquarters in Rawalpindi.


Though the army has reaped a financial windfall from US military aid, and has targeted many foreign militants allied with Al Qaeda in the region, its performance against Pakistani militants has been mixed at best. Consequently, the prestige of the Taleban and other militant groups operating in the area has grown. In this context, the army, seeking to avoid sole responsibility for reverses, wants a popular government to take charge of policy. No such government can emerge if the elected parties are unseated.


Nevertheless, there are signs of disagreement on important matters between the government and the army. The military recently blocked a government move to place Pakistan's infamous intelligence service, the ISI, under the control of the interior minister rather than the prime minister. Musharraf backed the military's opposition to this reform, gaining some gratitude from military commanders.


During PM Yousaf Raza Gilani's recent visit to the US, President Bush repeatedly said that his administration supports Pakistan's democracy, a policy since reiterated by US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. This indicates that the US will not back Musharraf in any confrontation between him and Pakistan's democratic forces. Most Pakistanis hope so.  Musharraf must assess what will be his legacy. Rather than trying to face down impeachment and prolonging the crisis, he should recognise that Pakistan cannot afford more instability, and that giving up honourably will bring him some respect.


Even if Musharraf faces impeachment and by some stroke of luck is saved from being thrown out of office, his future will be bleak. In March 2009, the current ruling coalition will gain more seats in the Senate, and the government would almost certainly try to impeach him again.  Moreover, any attempt by Musharraf to dislodge the government by using his constitutional authority would trigger another election, the results of which would not be much different from the vote in February. It is time for Musharraf's friends in the West to press him to serve his country one last time, by avoiding confrontation with his country's democratic forces and calling it quits.

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Musharraf's exit won't change much for India


Indrani Bagchi, TNN


15 Aug 2008


NEW DELHI: The endgame for Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is clearly at touching distance now — whether by impeachment or resignation. For every democratically minded person, this should be welcome news. Why then does that not seem to be true for fiercely democratic India next door?


National security advisor M K Narayanan raised the unhappy prospect of Musharraf's exit leaving a "vacuum" that would not be in India's interest. In a recent interview, he said, "Whether he is impeached or not is not important from the Indian point of view. It is for the people of Pakistan to decide.


But it leaves a big vacuum and we are deeply concerned about this vacuum because it leaves the radical extremist outfits with freedom to do what they like, not merely on the Pak-Afghan border but clearly on our side of the border too."


The fact is, Musharraf has been emasculated for some time within Pakistani politics. The only reason he has held on so far is because he has taken advantage of the squabbling Zardari-Sharif duo. While the Pakistani nation has watched in horror the collapse of governance, it's also been very clear that the Taliban, Al Qaida, Lashar-e-Toiba and other versions of the radical Islamist fringe have been on a roll. And ISI, the way India knows it, has gone back to its bad old ways.


And then J&K fell into Pakistan's lap. According to security analysts, there are clear signs of the LeT, JeM and others walking back to claim their places again in the fertile fields in Valley. Orchestrated by the ISI.


The point is, if Musharraf had been in control would the ISI or the jihadi groups be any more restrained? Probably not. A taste of what a Musharraf in control could have done was in his speech on Thursday in Islamabad.


"I condemn this act of human rights violation. There is no doubt that every Pakistani is with their brothers and sisters in Kashmir on this occasion. I have no doubt that Kashmir beats in the heart of every Pakistani and that Kashmir runs through Pakistan's veins. Therefore, every Pakistani is with the people of Kashmir."


These are words India has not heard from Musharraf for ages. So it's not difficult to imagine that even if Musharraf had been around, the Pakistani response would have been the same as it is today.


Where then is the vacuum that Musharraf's exit would create? Former envoy to Pakistan G Parthasarathy said: "His removal will result in military playing a more autonomous role on relations with India, including policies on J&K, support for Taliban and control over nuclear weapons."




US fights for safe passage to Musharraf

14 Aug 2008, 0550 hrs IST, Chidanand Rajghatta,TNN


WASHINGTON: The Bush administration, for long a patron of Pakistan's military strongman Pervez Musharraf, has decided to let go of its ward amid growing momentum for the civilian democratic government's move to impeach the fading "president" who derived much of his strength from the army and Washington.


Washington has discreetly made it known, through key officials, that the impeachment proceedings are the "internal affairs" of Pakistan and the US will respect due process, but has also conveyed that Musharraf should be given immunity and/or safe exit from the political lynch mob should he decide to step down before lawmakers formally move against him.


There is growing expectation that Musharraf will step down after a farewell address to nation on August 14, Pakistan's independence day, although his aides are contesting reports to that effect. But Washington has already signalled a 'hands off' approach publicly, even as it continues to work behind the scenes to secure its client's safety.


"Our expectation is that any action will be consistent with the rule of law and the Pakistani constitution," was all a state department official would say last week after the White House decided not to back Musharraf in his scrap with the new civilian rulers, having ascertained that the Pakistani Army is also not willing to interfere in the process.


However, both players – America and Army – have conveyed that they would like the civilian dispensation to abjure the politics of vendetta and allow the retired general to defend himself. US interlocutors, including Washington's envoy to Islamabad, Anne Patterson, are said to be in consulting with Musharraf, his successor Army chief, and the new civilian leadership, to arrange for a climb down and a possible safe passage for Musharraf should he decide not to go down the path of confrontation.


With more and more Pakistani lawmakers, including prominent politicians who thrived under his dispensation, ditching Musharraf in the last few days, his days seem numbered. Some of the political players, including Musharraf's current nemesis Nawaz Sharif and the scions of the Bugti clan, whose paterfamilias was killed on Musharraf's orders, are playing hardball and insisting that Musharraf will be tried for various excesses. There are fears that such sentiments might generate a lynch mob.


While the US is ready to sideline Musharraf, it does not want humiliation for the man who served its cause initially and earned warm praise from its president before he fell foul of the White House. Speculation in rife in Pakistan about how Bush has avoided phone calls from Musharraf even as Washington is busy arranging exile for the fallen military ruler.


The US position on Musharraf changed followed a growing body of evidence that he may have played a double game in not only the war on terror, but also in the carefully crafted US plans to bring about a rapproachment between him and Benazir Bhutto and transition Pakistan into a quasi-civilian form of government with a strong military influence.


A stunning disclosure based on communication intercepts by US intelligence in American journalist Ron Suskind's new book "The Way of the World" shows Musharraf literally toyed with Benazir Bhutto's life before she was snuffed out by an assassin.


"You should understand something," Musharraf tells Bhutto in one conversation. "Your security is based on the state of our relationship." The conversation takes place during Bhutto's meeting with US lawmakers at Capitol Hill, including John Kerry, and State Department officials, Suskind says, at a time when she was insisting on the repeal of the provision prohibiting a third term for prime ministers.


"The twice-elected provision is important to me," Bhutto tells Musharraf. "If you're retreating from that, what can you give me? May be some real reform in the election commission?" Bhutto also inquired whether some US officials had called the military ruler to make it clear that her safety is his responsibility.


Musharraf is clearly angry with the Americans for forcing him into a deal with Bhutto and makes it clear he does not give a damn about Washington. "Yes, someone has called," he snaps. "The Americans can call all they want with their suggestions about you and me, let them call."


Musharraf derived his backing from Washington mainly on account of the Pentagon's and CIA's long institutional relationship with their counterparts in Pakistan and political support from the Vice-president Dick Cheney's office. But increasingly, both the US military and intelligence began to provide evidence of Pakistani malfeasance in the war on terror, including Islamabad's covert support for Taliban, forcing the political players in Washington to fall in line.


Several US lawmakers who were big fans of Musharraf not too long ago, also began to distance themselves from him and call for diverting US support to the Pakistan's civilian dispensation instead of for the military.


In Washington, US officials are keeping an incessant volley of comments about Georgia and its clash with Russia, but it is Pakistan that dominates the administration's mindscape considering its potential for meltdown around its nuclear assets.


Source: The Times of India, New Delhi