Originally Published 2006-06-08 07:05:06 Published on Jun 08, 2006
General election in Pakistan is due next year. The terms of the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies expire on November 15, 2007. There are already visible signs of hectic political activity in the drawing rooms and closed-door meetings in Islamabad, Dubai, Washington and London.
Wearing too many hats
General election in Pakistan is due next year. The terms of the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies expire on November 15, 2007. There are already visible signs of hectic political activity in the drawing rooms and closed-door meetings in Islamabad, Dubai, Washington and London.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Newspapers in Pakistan are getting filled up, page by page, with political snippets and reports on behind-the-scenes parleys between various political groups. Meetings and press conferences by political leaders are becoming common. The scene is getting set for another great Pakistan Democracy show. Will it be a repeat of 2002 or 1999? <br /> <br /> The answers to these questions are not easy to find. What is less difficult is to figure out, with reasonable accuracy, the questions which President Musharraf might have to face in the coming months, the impact such decisions might have on his future as the supreme authority in Pakistan, and the likely course of actions he might take.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> First and foremost is the dilemma which refuses to go away even after five years: Whether to remain the Chief of Army Staff or let the next General take over. The answer is not simple. In the normal course of events, General Musharraf, who took over the post of the Chief of Army Staff in 1998, would have retired after three years (2001) and the matter would have rested there, but for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief's dismissal and refusal to let him land in Islamabad. On June 20, 2001, he anointed himself as the President and three months down the line, when the world changed with the two hijacked planes plummeting into World Trade Centre towers in New York on September 11, 2001, the General ditched the Taliban and hitched his wagon to President George Bush's War on Terrorism and thereby scripted a long innings for himself. With the new found support from Washington, he drew enough courage to formalise his presidency through a referendum on April 30, 2002. <br /> <br /> Electing himself as the President was far easier than facing the combined ire of political and religious parties who began a nation-wide campaign against him. They wanted him to quit as the Chief of Army Staff or step down as the President. The Uniform controversy lasted more than a year with the debate about his uniform becoming an issues of debates in international fora.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Although he was forced to negotiate with the protesting groups, making several concessions, giving free reign to jihadi groups and allowing religious groups to spread their network, he had the last laugh. In a quid pro quo, he got the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the six-party religious alliance, to allow the Legal Framework Order to become part of the 1973 Constitution as the 17th Amendment. <br /> <br /> The provisions of this amendment gave wide-ranging powers to the President, including the power to dismiss the National Assembly, the Provincial Assemblies and the Prime Minister in "national interest". The Amendment allowed him to stay as the President till 2007. In return, he promised that he would demit the office of the Chief of Army Staff by December 31, 2004. <br /> <br /> Two years down the line, there is no sign of the General letting go of his uniform. It is certain that political parties will go to town with this issue. It is also equally certain that the General will not relent to street politics. His dilemma will, however, be how to replace the 17th Amendment with a new one giving him the power to decide the fate of the next National Assembly, prime ministership, and the freedom to decide about quitting the post of Army chief, if at all he has to. <br /> <br /> To begin understanding the situation in Pakistan in the next several months, it is appropriate to begin from this question: Will there be elections? There are substantial number of people who have these doubts, both within Pakistan and India, and elsewhere. Reports of the likelihood of postponement of elections appearing in the Pakistan media have only strengthened these misgivings. But the General needs the fig leaf of democracy to survive. There is no way he can legitimise his rule till he is elected in 2007. <br /> <br /> The question that follows is: Will he shed the uniform? The answer is no, not yet. The Americans would prefer him in the twin roles as long as they want the Pakistan Army to do their bidding in Afghanistan, Waziristan and elsewhere. There will be strong demand for his resignation as the Army Chief domestically. The MMA, especially Qazi Hussain Ahmad, will stoke the heat on the General in September where the party has threatened to begin a nation-wide stir on this issue. <br /> <br /> The real problem, however, will be within the Army. On the surface, the Corps Commanders are his trusted men and there seems no possibility of any one of them tripping the General during the election. The people are with him. So is the US. But then, President Zia-ul Haq too was in a similar situation when the plane carrying him exploded near Bhawalpur in August 1988, killing him and several others. So should we, also, begin asking, After Musharraf who? <br /> <br /> <br /> </font> <font size="2" class="greytext1"> <em>The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. <br /> <br /> Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, June 8, 2006.</em> <br /> <br /> <em>* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.</em> <br />
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