SYED TAUSIEF AUSAF reveals how Pakistan is standing at a Crossroads with President Gen. Musharraf unwilling to shed the uniform and PPP leader Benazir Bhutto trying to occupy the Prime Minister’s House once again.
What is common between India’s Dalit leader Mayawati and exiled former Pak premier Benazir Bhutto? Both are opportunists of the first order. Both can stoop to any level if power is in sight. Both are capable of junking duly signed political agreements with partners.
Even after a decade, it is still fresh in minds how Bahujan Samaj Party’s stalwart Mayawati had brazenly ditched the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh when, as per the BSP-BJP power-sharing deal, it was the BSP’s turn to rule UP for six months after Mayawati had completed her stint.
Benazir Bhutto, who had signed the Charter of Democracy with Nawaz Sharif in London a couple of months ago, and had pledged never to violate it whether in power or not, surreptitiously entered into parleys with Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Abu Dhabi and reached an understanding with the military ruler that she would support Musharraf in return for the chair of prime minister.
Benazir, who never gets tired of calling Musharraf’s rule unaccountable, unrepresentative, undemocratic and disconnected from ordinary Pakistanis, is now frustrated over not achieving the desired outcome of Abu Dhabi talks. Dumping the decisions she had taken with Sharif, she is now planning to return to Pakistan by mid October for elections in which she is likely to ally with Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League (Q). The price she has set for this marriage of convenience is lifting of ban on politicians serving a third term as premier. Under the garb of a “confidence building measure,” it, in fact, is a wily attempt to clear the way for her to be occupy the Prime Minister’s House again.
Benazir has staked her political future by doing political transactions with Musharraf. Thanks to her political immaturity, she has given a new lease of life to the same person whom she called an unconstitutional military dictator responsible for rising radicalism and violence. People think she is frantically holding talks with the army regime to get the cases against her and Asif Zardari quashed.
While Benazir has distanced herself from extremist elements in the opposition in an effort to get closer to the army ruler, it appears that Musharraf has won the political chess by getting Benazir to divorce the opposition without having to give her anything in return. How? So far there is nothing concrete in Benazir’s hands. Until yesterday, reports quoted her as giving the president until the month-end to make things clear. Time is running out, she said. “Is it just talk, or is it going to turn into a walk?” A recent BBC poll, it may be noted, has named Nawaz Sharif Pakistan’s most popular leader, followed by ZA Bhutto and then Benazir. There are no short cuts to the avenues of power. And the PPP leader is not a superwoman.
The most unfortunate thing that can happen to a country is the foreign meddling in its internal issues. It should be a matter of grave concern to the Pakistanis in general and Opposition in particular that the Bush administration is quietly prodding Musharraf to share authority with Benazir. It should be seen in the background of Condoleezza Rice’s phone call to the President of Pakistan at 2am last week to warn him against declaring emergency. And she did discuss with him the idea of a power sharing arrangement.
Has anyone ever heard of a phone call from the Oval Office to 7 Race Course Road asking or even suggesting as to whom with whom should be in the driving seat?
None of Musharraf’s public speeches is complete without reiterating the independence of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. But if media reports are to be believed, the Bush Administration fears Musharraf could eventually be toppled and replaced by a leader who might be less reliable as a guardian of Pak nuclear arsenal and as an ally against terrorism. Any reduction in Musharraf’s powers, it is feared, could make matters worse for the US as it is bogged down in Afghanistan. Benazir’s return could also bolster Pakistani nationalism and generate fresh calls for Islamabad to say goodbye to Washington.
Anyway, more trouble lies in store for Pakistan as Musharraf, who had announced in a nationwide TV address in 2003 that he would shed uniform in 2004, is all set to do it again and “at any cost”.
The most important question is: What will he do if the Supreme Court, headed by the recently restored Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, blocks his nomination and declares it unconstitutional? Senior figures in the ruling party are sure the apex court will almost certainly do that.
Who will then prevail “at any cost”? Musharraf or the country’s Supreme Court?
Musharraf’s statement on Thursday that he would be re-elected from the current assemblies and in uniform “at any cost” before October 15 is shocking and at the same time ridiculous. What he really meant by “at any cost” needs elaboration. Does it mean he won’t relinquish power even if the assemblies choose not to elect him? Does it mean he won’t go even if the top court bans him from imposing himself on the country for the third time?