Amid contradictory signals from Washington, frantic efforts continued in Islamabad to assemble a coalition government in the aftermath of a fractured result from the February 18 elections with clear winners.
In recent days, envoys from the US, the UK and France held a flurry of meetings with the key players in government formation, Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif Pakistan Muslim League-N, and pressed both not to try to impeach President Musharraf or reinstate the deposed CJ, who would be sure to invalidate the President’s re-election last year.
The US State Department's barely conceals desire to see Musharraf continue in office. Defying the widespread public sentiment in Pakistan against President Musharraf, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came out emphatically in support of keeping President Musharraf in the saddle. She says “Musharraf is the president of the country and the United States would continue to deal with him and pursue its interests for a stable and democratic.”
However, US Senator Joe Biden, believes that Musharraf must make a graceful retreat from power. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Council on Foreign Relations that he and his delegation members -- John Kerry and Chuck Hagel -- met the president a day after the election in which the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim Leagu-Q was defeated. "He (the president) walked in and said, 'Look, the results are in. I lost'," and that he was prepared to be a transition figure, Biden said.
The US interference in Pakistan government’s policies became overt last year when Musharraf was pressured by Washington to share power with Benazir in a new civilian-face government. The US recognizes the import of combining political initiative with military action against ‘terror’ and facilitated the return of Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December.
The US pressure is yielding results. Pakistan People's Party Co-chairman and widower of Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, whose party will lead a coalition government, has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying that he would seek a working relationship with President Pervez Musharraf since their coalition government may not able to impeach him. "The ground reality is that we do not have a two-thirds majority in the parliament" required for a successful impeachment, Zardari said in an interview with the paper. "Our main objective is to work for the smooth transition to the democracy," he said.
However, Nawaz Sharif, whose party will be a key coalition partner with Zardari, insists that that Pervez Musharraf should resign as soon as possible, showing respect to the verdict of the people. Another contentious issue is of restoration of more than 60 judges, including the Chief Justice Iftikhar Ahmed Chaudhry, who were sacked and some of them were jailed.
Whatever the configuration of the new government, Washington is facing a changed political landscape in Pakistan, including the diminished fortunes of its favored ally, Musharraf, in the battle against extremism.
Pakistan Muslim League-N chief Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has asked the United States to come up with a clear definition of the global war on terrorism. “So far the war on terrorism has not been clearly defined to make it acceptable for everyone and we would like that this war should not be fought with the gun alone and the option of dialogue should also be used.” Nawaz Sharif says the ongoing war on terror is not in favor of Pakistan; accordingly, the new parliament will decide upon the strategy of fight against terrorism in future.
A far more worrisome development for Washington should be the capture of power in the strategic North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) by the nationalist Awami National Party (ANP). The ANP's electoral success over the Islamic parties is being commonly seen as signifying a rout of the forces of extremism and as the victory of the secularist platform. While this is manifestly so, what cannot be overlooked at the same time is that the ANP also has a long tradition of left-wing politics. It was against the US-backed “Jihad” against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan in 1980s.
Tellingly, the ANP has condemned the US forces' operations in the Pashtun regions in southern Afghanistan during the "war on terror". The ANP leadership has reiterated its demand for "peaceful means to end militancy in the NWFP province and the adjacent tribal areas".
Awami National Party secretary-general Ehsan Wayne said last week that the ANP did not agree with the strategy adopted by the government for controlling terrorism which had been rejected by voters during the recent elections. “The ANP would avoid use of force and start a dialogue with militants by convening ‘jirgas’ in accordance with the tribal traditions.” He said the terrorism being witnessed in the country was an outcome of dictatorship.