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Pakistan: It’s Not Over Yet
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Update to the Update:

I see from Jim Lobe that Hussein Haqqani, the PPP’s flack-in-residence at Boston University, its spokesman to Capitol Hill, and designated quotemeister to the U.S. media, unveiled the current party position in the Wall Street Journal:

The newspaper also published a column by Hussein Haqqani – an adviser to the late PPP leader, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto – demanding that Musharraf “work out an honorable exit or a workable compromise with the opposition.”

That, to me, is a sign that the PPP wants to abandon its promise to work with Musharraf and accommodate the PML-N by calling for his ouster instead, even if Haqqan and Zardari are cautiously hesitating to make an categorical demand for Musharraf to stand down while the Bush administration is still committed to supporting Musharraf.

The PPP wants to swim with the political tide in Pakistan instead of bending to pressure from Washington.

So it is moving to reject Washington’s Three No policy—no reform of the judiciary, no resignation of Musharraf, and no alliance with the PML-N.

And Asif Zardari wants to turn his back on the bargain Washington made with Benazir Bhutto—our backing in return for her promise to enter a coalition with Musharraf —that brought his wife back to Pakistan and vaulted him to political power.

So it looks like Zardari decided to screw Washington instead of Pakistan.

If so, good for him!

Lobe’s article also has a good roundup of the newly vocal and growing Mush Must Go chorus in the U.S. foreign policy sphere.

Update:

Pakistan’s The News reports that the PPP and the PML-N have agreed to form a coalition government.

The fate of the judiciary and Musharraf have not been clearly addressed, so it’s not clear if this is a lasting coalition or a superficial and tactical alliance.

According to The News:

Nawaz Sharif maintained that there is no difference in the two parties on the restoration of the deposed judges.

“We accept the mandate of PPP with an open heart and wish that PPP complete its five year term,” he said, adding, “struggle for restoration of judiciary will continue and CoD [Charter of Democracy] will also be followed.”

PPP Co-Chairman, Asif Zardari said PPP and PML-N have decided to work together for democracy. However, he said, some of the matter are yet to be decided by the parties.

It would surprise me if the PML-N continues in the coalition if Musharraf remains in the presidency and the pre-November 3 judiciary is not restored.

It’s noteworthy that Asif Zardari and the PPP have taken a step away from the United States by pursuing a coalition with the PML-N.

It looks like Zardari is trying to bend U.S. support to Pakistani political realities.

Perhaps he’ll even try to persuade Washington to abandon its support of Musharraf.

Perhaps that’s the assurance he gave to Sharif in order to bring the PML-N into the coalition.

And Sharif, afraid that he would be left standing on the sidelines if the PPP won the glory of driving Musharraf from office, cautiously decided to enter the coalition with the intention of opting out later if the PPP falters in its anti-Musharraf fervor.

Original post below

Nawaz Sharif sees no reason to follow Asif Zardari and the PPP into a dead end.

Sharif, leader of the opposition PML-N, is saying his demand that the pre-November 3 judiciary be restored—which would most likely directly lead to the invalidation of Musharraf’s presidential election—is non-negotiable.

With the provincial assemblies that vote on the president now dominated by the opposition (except in Balochistan, where Musharraf’s PML-Q managed to cling to the lead spot), any do-over of the presidential election would certainly lead to Musharraf’s departure.

Musharraf’s resignation is desired by about 75% of Pakistanis, according to the IRI poll.

An independent judiciary (close to but not quite “restoration of the pre-November 3 judiciary”) was supported to 85% of respondents in the Terror Free Tomorrow (hereinafter TFT) poll .

One might be tempted to regard the PML-N’s uncompromising stance as posturing during the negotiations to form a coalition government.

But taking a junior position in a PPP-led coalition and, in effect, expending his political capital to help the PPP succeed in governing Pakistan doesn’t do a lot for Sharif.

Sharif has more to gain if he can gain control of Punjab province, where the PML-N won the plurality of seats, without having to kowtow to the PPP.

Given his party’s strong showing in the provincial elections held as part of the national assembly elections on February 18), where the PML-N won 102 Punjab seats to 77 for the PPP and 64 for the PML-Q, that goal might be in reach.

At the national level, Sharif has given every indication that a) he’s ready for a long-haul fight for power and b) he saw what Benazir Bhutto started to do with the PPP and wants to build a national, issue-oriented party and not just a Punjab powerhouse.

In this context, insisting on restoration of the judiciary isn’t a quixotic crusade or, as the US media misleadingly paints it, symptomatic of Sharif’s thirst for revenge against the guy who removed him from office in 1999.

It’s smart politics.

And as far as I can see, Nawaz Sharif is a pretty smart guy.

So I don’t expect him to abandon his confrontational stance.

And where does this leave Asif Zardari and the PPP?

Behind the political 8-ball.

The PPP is unwilling to insist on Musharraf’s ouster or the restoration of the judiciary.

Instead, it is exploring alternatives to the PML-N in alliances with the thuggish MQM (which controls Karachi) and those electoral remnants of the despised PML-Q who have supposedly been purified in the flames of the February 18 election and are worthy of admission into the PPP.

In other words, the PPP is sliding into alliance with Musharraf, the PML-Q, and the MQM: three of the least popular forces in Pakistani politics.

Excuse me.

I forgot the fourth and least popular force in Pakistan politics (20% according to TFT): the United States.

If the PPP compromises with Musharraf, the (completely accurate) rumblings of outrage that Asif Zardari sold out Pakistan for the sake of the secret PPP+Musharraf power sharing deal demanded by the United States will only increase.

Pardon me.

That puts the PPP on the wrong side of the fifth and even less popular issue (9% approval according to TFT) in Pakistan: supporting the US/Musharraf War on Terror military campaign against the al Qaeda, Taleban, and the Pashtuns in West Pakistan.

With the PPP ready to embrace this armful of political anvils, it doesn’t look like genius for the PML-N to hold back.

It looks like common sense.

If the PPP-led coalition allows Musharraf to stay in the presidency, doesn’t restore the pre-November 3 judiciary, and collapses into bickering and impotence, producing a hung parliament, then Musharraf can dissolve parliament and call for new elections, perhaps even a few months from now.

Then the PPP would be running on a platform of failure, ignoble compromise, and squandered sacrifice…against the PML-N, which dominates Punjab, with its share of over half of the seats in the National Assembly and has consolidated its position as leader of the national middle class with its popular stance on Musharraf and the judiciary.

The next salvo in Pakistan’s political battle may be March 7.

According to Dawn :

LAHORE, Feb 20: Supporters of Aitzaz Ahsan, the detained president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, defied police restrictions and carried him on their shoulders outside his Zaman Park residence.Talking to the media, Mr Ahsan reiterated his call for restoration of deposed judges by March 7. “Otherwise we will hold a long march and gather in Islamabad from all over the country,” he said.

He said lawyers would not settle for anything less than the reinstatement of deposed judges and they were ready to negotiate with all political parties for the purpose. “But I want to make one thing clear. That we have a one-point agenda: restoration of all deposed judges,” he added….He said the PPP could not ignore the issue of reviving the pre-emergency judiciary because Benazir Bhutto herself had declared Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry as the “real” chief justice of Pakistan.

A Los Angeles Times profile gives an idea of Ahsan’s national stature:

A celebrated lawyer, Ahsan was shut away in jail and then in his home here for speaking out against Musharraf’s six-week emergency rule late last year and for defending Pakistan’s popular chief justice, whom the president had summarily dismissed.The crackdown on Ahsan turned this distinguished, articulate man into a national hero, a prisoner of conscience whose confinement, in the eyes of many, symbolized the arrogance and highhandedness of Musharraf’s rule.

If you don’t think lawyer militancy and restoration of the judiciary aren’t potential minefields for the PPP, consider this:

Ahsan is not just one of the most popular and respected people in Pakistan.

He’s also a PPP politician whose name was floated as a possible consensus prime minister.

And three weeks from now he could be leading a protest march against a PPP-led coalition government.

Like I said, it’s not over yet.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Ahsan, Pakistan, Sharif, Zardari 
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