Last year Washington invited a few leaders of the ANP, to join a future grand political alliance for the 2007 elections under General Musharraf and composed of the PPP, ANP, MQM, JUI (F) and PML (Q). It sounded an improbable eventuality at that time. This design has now not only become probable but is under implementation after the deal between Musharraf and Benazir.
On 27 July, General Musharraf met BB at Abu Dhabi in the presence of UAE leaders, who acted as sureties to ensure that commitments are honored. No details of their discussion have emerged.
An examination of various reports and analysis of events in Pakistan indicate an agreement on the following lines:
- The Parliament will amend the disability clause and permit BB to become Prime Minister for the third time.
- General Musharraf will be elected as the next President from the existing assemblies and simultaneously a notification will be issued of his retirement from the post on 1 January 2008.
- A free and fair election will be held under a neutral Chief Election Commissioner and technocratic caretaker Prime Minister and Chief Ministers and Governors.
- The corruption cases against BB will not be pursued.
- A guarantee has been given to the U.S of strong action against the radicals
The rapidly moving political developments in Pakistan forced General Musharraf to seek an adjustment with BB, whom he has been belittling ever since he took office. After the Lal Masjid incident and the reinstatement of the Chief Justice by the Supreme Court, Musharraf’s hopes of succeeding in the next election receded because of the expected neutrality of the apex court; it would not bail Musharraf out.
Two factors have forced Musharraf to fight for prolongation of his rule. The first is the Supreme Court’s judgment, which brought the Chief Justice back. On similar pervious occasions, the military dominated the judiciary by a cleverly orchestrated media and rumor campaign engineered by its military intelligence services, who acted as the deliverer of the state to their Commander in Chief. This was possible in the Chief Justice episode.
Secondly, Musharraf never truly politicized himself. He neither created a mass following, nor did he align himself with a recognized political party with grass root support. His cobbling together of a support base composed of a diverse group of pseudo self serving politicians, did not help him in major political controversies. He has remained a General that is his strength and weakness.
Military governments after a while become a victim of their hierarchical structure; that is the reason of their success in the first instance in their battle against the legitimate government. Over time, however, militarism constricts the worldview of any garrison President. Since he has too much on his plate both as President and as commander in chief, he makes a bad job of both roles.
President Musharraf is no different. Since 1999, he has remained sequestered within the same circle of principal officers by promoting only those whom he knew at the junior rank. It resulted in a narrow and an unrealistic feedback on national matters and the quality of advice began to fall off. This is what got President Musharraf in the end!
An important factor forcing Musharraf to seek a settlement is his falling popularity in the US. Lately, he has become a target of the U.S. media and Congress; his personal friendship with President Bush acts as a barrier saving Musharraf from political annihilation. He understands that he will no longer be able to deal with terrorism by military means alone; he must also have the support of political forces. The military strategy must work under an overall political strategy. Pakistan’s military until now was operating as a theatre force in support of the U.S objectives. This is its major weakness in the war against terror.
How will this understanding between the two unravel? The defining feature as explained will be the performance in the war on terror. The war and the policies in this area will define the survivability of the two. If the military does not cooperate, then the General will be removed; if BB falters with a bad political plan to tackle this war, then she will not last.
After the victory of the Democratic Party in the U.S election and the certainty that the next U.S President will be, a Democrat has considerably weakened Musharraf’s future prospects. Simultaneously, the U. S media, think tanks and policy makers on Capitol Hill take Musharraf’s commitments with a pinch of salt. They discern an obvious dissimulation in his pronouncements.
It may be noted that the secret talks between Musharraf and BB took place under the shadow of a dead movement, which was for the restoration of democracy, organized by the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif in London. In the absence of BB, it was destined to fail. Nawaz Sharif’s adamant attitude of not wishing to talk to President Musharraf was an emotional response, which lacked political foresight. One must always participate to make a difference. Negotiations do not mean that you are selling your principles. On the contrary, participation shows your commitment to the larger cause of Pakistan.
A couple of months ago BB and Nawaz Sharif had signed another non-starter called the charter of democracy. Both committed never to negotiate with the military; in a sense it echoed the innocence of the Garden of Eden and did not take into account the feudal and military reality of Pakistan. Perhaps BB because of her feudal background is better equipped to analyze quickly the expedient opportunities thrown up by a collapsing Musharrafian system, than the urbanite Nawaz Sharif. A national government is need of the hour , Musharraf is peripheral.
However, Musharraf has not jumped into this arrangement with BB out of the blue. Both Britain and the U.S. were certain that at the tail end of Musharraf’s innings, the western alliance would need a steady batsman to see the game to the end. If BB and the other political stalwarts do not support a consolidation of the political process, then there is a danger of the country spiraling into the chaos of fundamentalism, which would atomize Pakistan into small sectarian based seminary dominated zones of influence. That is the biggest threat to liberalism and unity of the country. Finally, a political solution will be required.
The events have removed two doubts. If anyone thought that Musharraf is a principled leader, this agreement has proved them wrong. In his eagerness to prolong, his own rule he has had to swallow embarrassingly, the utterance that he would never compromise with either BB or Nawaz Sharif. He broke that compact like other prouncements. For him promises are not important. Secondly, Benazir too has lost plenty of standing in the public. Both are self-seekers.
However, there are other political personalities, who will be having problems with truth. For example, both Aitzaz Ahsan and Shah Mahmud Qureshi of the PPP are on record having said that neither they nor their party will have anything to do with Musharraf. One hopes that they have learnt a lesson. Pakistani politics is about expediency and not principles.
The most discomfited group by the deal, will be the humpty dumpties of the PML (Q) and their supporters from other smaller and inconsequential parties. One wonders what Cahudry Shujat and his cousin the Punjab Chief Minister will be thinking of their dismal future under the glare of future accountability trials. Lots of money and men of consequence will be seeking homes abroad.
After the 1999 coup by Musharraf, Fazlur Rehman of the JUI (F) promised to support Musharraf. He has been an astute manipulator; one of the best in this game, and has benefited himself and his party in NWFP. He will surely remain close to the new arrangement and will be a part of the new alliance that is being cobbled.
The ANP, which has votes in the Charsadda, Mardan and Peshawar districts, will look for political revival. It will be contesting many of the seats where Sherpao is likely to put up candidates. BB will not want Sherpao to have any political space despite a soft spot for him in Musharraf’s heart. Thus, a PPP & ANP deal in the NWFP may take shape, if the ANP can get away from its personal links with Nawaz Sharf.
The MQM will demand its pound of flesh in Karachi and Hyderabad and Musharraf is bound to help them given his close links with them. Musharraf feels that his identity is defined by the MQM. This will lead to conflict with BB as both are anathema to each other.
The remaining political hanger ons will be marching around the Brigadiers and Colonels of the ISI who will be tasked to divide the seats amongst this coalition. The Chief Election Commissioner poor man will be bullied by the intelligence agencies to accede to election rigging. Whether rigging takes place will depend on the mobilization of civil society at least in the cities.
PML (N) will be shouting ‘foul’, while taking part in the charade of this forthcoming election. It may win some seats – however if the Chief Justice prevails and people listen to him, then this design will fail. Victory of the Chief Justice over Musharraf was possible because civil society and lawyers could bring to bear their weight on two focal points – the court and the Chief Justice. This will not be physically possible with the elections. There are too many constituencies.
We have discussed some of the key implications of the deal, but what will be BB’s endplay? If the past is in an indicator, she will do to Musharraf what she did to Ghulam Ishaq Khan when she opted for Farooq Leghari. Musharraf has now no way to get out of this trap.
With the return of politics, the agenda of the war on terror will slip unless institutional arrangements are put in place, which includes political supervision over the army to obey political orders. This is going to be difficult given their involvement as a class in every nook of the national economy. The military has thus become a state within a state. Benazir’s chances of success will ultimately lie in how she handles this equation.
What does the immediate future hold? Agitation, politics of expediency, a weak coalition government and more suicide bombings as Pakistan begins compliance under the new 9/11 legislation passed by the Congress. NWFP too will follow the national pattern with a split mandate and the ANP, JUI (F) and PPP returning to power after the elections.
The Washington design is holding. The least that NWFP political forces must seek from it is development, employment and certain constitutional amendments to make the federation more sensitive to provincial issues.