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'Foreign hand' in Pak political circles?

The barely concealed desire of the US to see Pak president continue in office isn't sans reason, writes V Sharma.

world Updated: Feb 24, 2008 11:32 IST
Vinod Sharma

In the unfolding political scenario, the focus in Pakistan is on two coalitions: the first in the works between triumphant political parties and the second in the global war against terror in which Pakistan and President Pervez Musharraf played a key role in recent years.

A flurry of meetings the key players in government formation, PPP's Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N's Nawaz Sharif, had in recent days with envoys from the US, the UK and France, have aroused as much anxiety as interest in Islamabad's political circles. It's no secret the hyper-active diplomats are also in touch with the President.

The US State Department's barely concealed desire to see Musharraf continue in office isn't without reason. But it lacks popular support in Pakistan and could create problems for parties appearing to play ball with the Bush administration.

One knows on the authority of many contestants that poll-time rhetoric against the Lal Masjid operation swung a chunk of the conservative vote in Punjab and elsewhere in favour of the Nawaz League that pilloried Musharraf no end on the issue. That Lal Masjid moved the voters in a big way was confirmed to HT by a winning candidate from northern Punjab.

For his part, Musharraf tried to drive home the advantage through a signed article in The Washington Post and an interview he gave to The Wall Street Journal: "We will continue to work closely with our longtime American allies in our common struggle to rid Pakistan and the world of militant extremism."

His willingness to cooperate with Parliament addressed the West's other concern — Pakistan's progress towards democracy. The fall in Musharraf's ratings at home is a factor the new rulers and the international community cannot ignore. But their effort is to make the best of a bad situation.

The PPP hasn't risen to the temptation of seeking the President's exit or the single-shot restoration of judges who called into question his election in uniform by the outgoing assembly. Parliament's sovereignty is Zardari's panacea for institutionalising constitutional rule that will, he believes, take care of the presidency's powers to dismiss elected regimes.

Does all this mean a new ease of life for Musharraf in the presidency? What the future holds in store will depend on his own conduct, the PPP's ability to strike common ground with the N-League and the role of foreign players. The US itself recognised the import of combining political initiative with military action against terror by facilitating Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan.

In the aftermath of her assassination, the PPP has styled itself as a binding force, a voice of reason amid political hyperbole.

"We'll work through Parliament. So, where does the issue arise," counter-poses Zardari to questions whether he'd work with Musharraf.