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President Musharraf Makes It Again

By       Message Muhammad Khurshid       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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After the winning of General Pervez Musharraf in the presidential election,  the tribesmen have been expecting decisive steps against terrorism. One thing has become clear after the election, that President Musharraf has been enjoying full support of the United States as despite opposition from all politicians and journalists, he reached the presidency for another five-year term.

Now the tribesmen expect that the US will advise the president to abolish terrorism and establish rule of law in tribal areas and other parts of Pakistan.

According to a comment, after the Supreme Court refused to deliver a clear verdict on the opposition's petition asking for a stay, the presidential election has resulted in an "unofficial" victory for President General Pervez Musharraf. His tenure is to end on November 15. He had told the Court earlier that he would step down as army chief after being re-elected on November 6 and before being sworn in as president for another five years. The Court gave "half-victory" to the opposition, staying only the official announcement of the result of the presidential election till October 17, when the case against the re-election of President Musharraf by the same assemblies would be decided on merit.

Had a clear verdict been issued, the government was ready to take care of any disruption arising out of the APDM and lawyers' reaction to the election. But now that an inconclusive opinion has been handed down, violence raised its ugly head in Peshawar, where the lawyers, having despaired of the JUI component of the MMA majority, have gone out and attacked the "law-enforcement authorities", leading to the usual counter-violence from the police. The crisis in the Peshawar assembly is not easy to understand for emotionally aroused partisans of the cause against President Musharraf. The Jamaat-e Islami part of the assembly has resigned while the JUI part of it has refused to dissolve it. The 124-seat assembly has taken part in the presidential election. It is supposed to send 65 votes - like all provincial assemblies - into the electoral college pool according to the presentational mathematics. Thirty-four votes have gone in favour of the president.

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President Musharraf has also promulgated the National Reconciliation Ordinance - as it were, "over the dead body" of the PMLQ leaders - and made sure that the legitimacy of the process is protected through the "non-resignation" of the PPP members. In the 168-member Sindh assembly, the PPP had the largest chunk of votes, 67. Although its leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim was in the presidential race, the party decided not to vote, resembling the action of the MMA of backing the candidature of Justice (Retd) Wajihuddin but then resigning and not voting for him. The Sindh assembly has given its 36 votes to President Musharraf. The 65-member Balochistan assembly has likewise given him 33 votes - as against 28 in 2002 - while the opposition has resigned.

The PMLQ-dominated Punjab assembly celebrated after casting the winning vote for President Musharraf. With 194 seats in a 297-member assembly, the followers of Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi came out raising victory slogans as Lahore's lawyers pushed against the police cordon to register their protest. An easy "innings" was observed also in the 342-seat National Assembly where the opposition was absent and the PPP did not vote. Only in the Senate was the opposition vote intact with the option of abstention. So President Musharraf has done swimmingly.

The "half victory" for the opposition at the Supreme Court was also a "half victory" for the government. This was not altogether a benign outcome. There were signals of "disagreement" of a factional sort among the bench that heard the first petition against President Musharraf and found it wanting on grounds of maintainability. In an extraordinary and unprecedented un-legal statement, one senior judge who had dissented from the majority and took the view of "non-maintainability" went down to Karachi and talked of "conscience" before proceeding abroad on leave. This clearly referred, not to any point of law, but to the "moral" quality of the individual judges of the bench. In the 1990s, the honourable court had given clear signs of bitter factionalism among its judges, a fact substantiated in the publications that issued later from the pens of the judges involved.

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The opposition was apprehensive of the "mood" of the new 10-member bench hearing the case on merits. Some members of the opposition alliance APDM openly spoke of the "expected" verdict against them. There was some justification for this pessimism. The first bench had listened to substantive arguments for days before delivering an opinion on "maintainability" - which it could have issued in a short order much earlier. But now that the court has once again abstained from making up its mind on merits, both sides of the cause are justified in being open to misgivings, especially as at least one judge has talked about "conscience" in public.

Although the government lawyers claimed victory - and despite rumours of myriad conspiracies - the pro-Musharraf elements were on tenterhooks about the see-saw of opinion among the bench that now contained only four judges that had previously found for President Musharraf without being assailed by doubts. What if the verdict is against President Musharraf seeking re-election from the same assemblies the second time? The point is greatly obscured by the emotional pressure of the popular division on the subject in the country and the violence-prone campaign launched by the opposition. It now remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court can find a solution that puts an end the civil strife rather than precipitating another crisis. Until then, we can conclude that a process has taken place and President Musharraf is President, whether anyone likes it or not.

A political writer state that the troubled and uncertain political situation in Pakistan since March 2007 has raised doubts about the long-term viability of the Musharraf-led political arrangement in Islamabad unless these are revised for accommodating the resurgent political forces and their participatory demands. The political status quo has become non-viable, and cannot be salvaged by the re-election of President General Pervez Musharraf alone.

In the past, Musharraf's position as the president and army chief was the sheet anchor of the political arrangements initiated in November 2002. Musharraf's co-opted political leadership led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PMLQ) was unable to expand is support base. Rather, it relied on complete identification with Musharraf to sustain its political centrality. The top hierarchy of PMLQ has been the main beneficiary of the 2002 political arrangements because it enabled them to amass more political clout at the federal level and in the Punjab than they could ever dream of. They never enjoyed such a commanding political standing when they were part of Nawaz Sharif's government during 1997-1999.

Given the changed political realities, Musharraf is no longer in a position to play such a pivotal role in the future. He needs a genuine political support base to function effectively. He cannot cultivate such support if he continues with the current political order in Islamabad. The opposition parties cannot reject these changed realities as unfounded propaganda. Similarly, the government's problems cannot be resolved by using the state apparatus and resources to fragment or suppress the opposition political forces.

Any dispassionate analysis of the current political situation shows that the government faces a host of challenges that have the potential to derail the political system. The most serious challenges are reinforcing Musharraf's position with political and societal support and strengthening the ethical basis of his authority.

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The alienation from the Musharraf government is not limited to the opposition parties. It is spread deep into the society including those who are not known for political activism. If the people have not so far come in the street in a large number in support of the opposition, this does not mean that they support the Musharraf government. A large section of the Pakistani populace suffers from political alienation, losing faith in the government and the political forces. The government has also been successful in denying the opposition with the leadership that has the potential to mobilise the people. The absence of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif has reduced the prospects of popular upsurge. This makes the youth vulnerable to extremist Islamic appeals because fundamentalist and extremist Islamic groups continue to engage in mobilisation in the name of Islam.

The forthcoming general elections, if these are held on schedule, are likely to give the political forces enough opportunity to mobilise with a strong anti-Musharraf slant.

Five major factors have accentuated the political crisis facing the Musharraf government. First, the current presidential election has been the most contentious presidential election in Pakistan's history. It has caused more polarisation than the January 1965 presidential election between Field Marshal Ayub Khan and Fatima Jinnah. At that time, the victory celebrations in the official circles were as pronounced as were the feelings of alienation and a loss of faith in the constitutional procedures for political change among the opposition political circles.

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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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