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The countdown's begun

Musharraf's position in Pakistan is becoming tenuous, but the only certainty is that in any future polls Pak army will be the only winner, writes PN Khera.

india Updated: Aug 17, 2006 03:57 IST
PN Khera

Seven years is a long time in politics, and an even longer time for a usurper. The signs that the people of Pakistan are fed up with General Pervez Musharraf’s rule are becoming more noticeable. His foreign policy is being criticised all around: by the US for not doing enough to block Taliban activities across the Durand Line; by New Delhi for turning a Nelson’s eye on groups  engaged in terrorist activities in India; and within Pakistan by those who feel that he is being too soft on the US and Israel on Lebanon.

Musharraf’s domestic policy is virtually non-existent, focused as it is on trying to retain his grip on power. The two principal parties — Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s PML — are showing signs of joining forces by agreeing on a charter on democracy.

At the same time, the Islamist parties  in Pakistan are forever ready to take to the streets on one pretext or the other. However, reports that Pakistani National Security Council Secretary Tariq Aziz met Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari have been denied.

There is more that suggests that the ground may be shifting from under Musharraf’s feet faster than he can think. Last month a group of retired generals joined politicians and academics in an attempt to end the stranglehold of the military on politics in Pakistan. In a letter to Musharraf, the Prime Minister and heads of political parties, they declared: “Besides being a constitutional office, the office of President of Pakistan is also a political office (and) combining presidency with the office of Chief of Army Staff politicises the latter post as well as the army”.

The signatories to the letter, who included Lt-Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir, Lt-Gen (retd) Asad Durrani, Lt-Gen (retd) Hameed Gul, noted academic Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, Dr Khalida Ghous, ruling PML Senator S.M. Zafar, PML-N leader Sartaj Aziz and PPP MNA Shah Mahmood Qureshi, called for the formation of a caretaker government to conduct free and fair elections next year.

The letter reflects the fears of those holding mainstream opinion in the country that Musharraf’s obstinacy may lead to a collapse of law and order in Pakistan, which will result in greater chaos than at present. As the letter notes, “Despite the existence of elected legislatures and the prospects of the next elections, there is a deficit of trust and credibility that marks virtually all political relationships.”

Considering that two of the signatories are ex-ISI chiefs — Gul and Durrani — there may be some scepticism over the sincerity of the signatories. This could well be yet another manoeuvre of the military establishment aimed at trying to get the armed forces off the hook in the mind of the average Pakistani.

In other words, it may be a means of easing the Musharraf transition. As the letter notes, “The whole nation deeply desires that conciliation, which is a collective and shared responsibility, rather than confrontation, (should) be the way forward.” So while the letter is long on the obligations of the political parties, it is short on making any clear-cut demands of the Pakistan army.

Earlier this month, Pakistan Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani claimed that the next polls would be free and transparent. However, as any long-term observer of the Pakistani scene knows, no matter what, the only clear-cut winner of any poll will remain the Pakistan army. Whether or not Pervez Musharraf remains its head is a separate issue, one which will be thrashed out by the corporate leadership of the army which comprises its corps commanders.