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Islam and Politics ( 12 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Musharraf living on borrowed time

Hassan Abbas | Project Syndicate

Tuesday 12 August 2008 (09 Sha`ban 1429)


PERVEZ Musharraf of Pakistan 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 destabilize 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 US missile attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas.


Pakistan’s leading political parties are now united against him. Feuding between the Pakistan People’s Party, led by Benazir’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and the Pakistan Muslim League (N), led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had given Musharraf a chance to regain some standing after his allies were defeated in the February elections. American reluctance to abandon him — together with prolonged electricity shortages, which made the new government appear incompetent — also raised Musharraf’s hopes.


Now Musharraf may be counting on the army, his primary constituency, to bail him out of this crisis. Though a protégé of Musharraf, the army’s chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is a professional soldier for whom the army’s institutional interests are more important than the political interests of his former army boss. Kayani has repeatedly declared that the army will not interfere in political affairs.


Even if the army is tempted to step in on Musharraf’s behalf, it has been chastened by 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 army knows it was public’s demand for free elections that led to the formation of the democratic government.


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.


During Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s recent visit to the US, President Bush repeatedly said that his administration supports Pakistan’s democracy. This indicates that the US will not back Musharraf in any confrontation between him and Pakistan’s democratic forces.


Musharraf must assess what will be his legacy. Rather than trying to face down impeachment and prolonging the crisis, he should recognize that Pakistan cannot afford more instability, and that giving up honorably will bring him some respect.


For the sake of argument, 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.


Source: Arab News