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Bush's Ally in a Quagmire

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President of the United States George W. Bush may be facing some disturbance as one his closed allies has been facing great difficulties. President Musharraf has been finding it hard to convince the opposition parties to elect him for another five years term. According to him, staying in power is must for him to win war on terror.

Leading newspapers and politicians have been discussing this topic. One of the leading newspapers dicussed the topic in detail. It wrote that President General Pervez Musharraf has told the Supreme Court  that he would give up his dual office and leave the post of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) after being re-elected as president of Pakistan. The statement has been immediately rejected by the opposition, and its lawyers have told the Court not to accept the undertaking on grounds of the president’s “unreliability” on matters relating to uniform. The honourable court has to decide whether the president is right in getting re-elected by the same assemblies with or without the uniform.

President Musharraf has been on record for some time that he would take the decision about his uniform in 2007 “in the light of the Constitution”. Everyone knew that his dual-office “exemption” under the Constitution was to expire in November 2007; then why did he not start pledging to get rid of it in 2006 or early 2007? As far as the charged political environment of the country is concerned, it would have served to defuse some of the tension had he pledged what was inevitable. What was behind the tantalising statements he kept making for over a year?

One newspaper has tried to guess why he acted like a phoenix during this period when his uniform was annoying even those quarters that appreciated his post-9/11 achievements? The guess is that he announced his giving up of the dual office after he was assured of a simple-majority “yes” vote from the party dominating the assemblies; that he wanted to abide by the Constitution; and that he became aware of the fact that “no one could rule forever”. There could be another, perhaps more cogent, reason.

The retention of the office of the COAS was actually based on President Musharraf’s peculiar situation. Normally, rulers become lame-duck towards the end of their tenure. A figurehead president, however, is not subject to this condition. In his case, because of the fact that he was not a “normal” president and had actually encroached on much of the domain of the prime minister, “lameduckness” had become operative on him. But here again his status was different from a normal ruler. He could go on without becoming lame duck because of his office of the COAS.

The retention of the dual office was for two reasons. Clearly the first reason was the retention of the loyalty of the ruling PMLQ whose declared intention of keeping him in uniform indefinitely meant that his utility to it emanated from his military office. The second reason was the uncertainty his announcement would unleash within the army about his authority and the expectations it would raise among the senior officers about getting to the top. The truth then is that he did not want to become a “lame duck” in the army.

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The PMLQ veered from its love of the president’s uniform with the passage of time. As the popular consensus grew against the uniform, many PMLQ leaders began to make public their reservations about it. While the top leadership kept tight-lipped, some leaders began to tell him to fight the re-election in civvies. The most “moderate” and perhaps more popular stance was adopted by the ruling party’s senator Mr SM Zafar. He was in favour of Musharraf contesting his office after giving up his office of the army chief.

Mr Zafar has now told a TV channel that if President Musharraf is “disqualified from the presidential election, it might spark anarchy in Pakistan”. He thinks that the Supreme Court is likely to ask Musharraf to resign as army chief before the election. The honourable court has enlisted Mr Zafar as an “amicus curiae”, which makes his position quite strong within the “rebel” members of the PMLQ and might conceivably impress the circle of presidential advisers in the days before the actual filing of the nomination papers.

President Musharraf’s inability to reach an understanding with the PPP has forced the latter into stiffening its attitude. Now it says it “will not vote for General Musharraf as president from this parliament either in uniform or even after leaving the post of the Chief of the Army Staff, believing that he is barred from contesting unless there is a constitutional amendment”. It now also threatens resignations from the assemblies to make the entire exercise illegitimate.

Hence, the announcement may be an example of “too little, too late”. The APDM opposition has rebuked itself for failing to show up on September 10 and has announced a Punjab-wide protest against the president on September 21. If it succeeds, the scene is set for the kind of confrontation that will do no good to the country.

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur Agency, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is also (more...)
 

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