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Musharraf in a corner, battles for survival

People in Pakistan are anxious to know what the next couple of months hold for their country, writes Kamal Siddiqi.

world Updated: Sep 01, 2007 22:19 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

Pakistan is in a state of political turmoil. People are anxious to know what the next couple of months hold for their country as the President, General Pervez Musharraf, tries to come to some understanding that will allow him to lead the country for the next five years.

For all practical purposes, say political analysts, things have come to a head. The first question many want answered is what prompted this sudden change in political fortunes for the General when till a couple of months back he was riding high.

Things are much more shaky now. The Supreme Court has allowed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to return to the country, ordered the release of opposition leader Javed Hashmi and taken the government to task over the number of people in detention for a variety of reasons.

More significantly, the Chief Justice, who was suspended by President Musharraf, is back in his job. Musharraf had asked Chief Justice to resign, which he refused to do. The overwhelming public support the Chief Justice has received since his suspension and then reinstatement has been an eye-opener not just for Musharraf but for other politicians as well.

Currently, the Chief Justice is hearing a petition challenging the legality of the dual offices held by Musharraf. Despite the fact that the government has tried to make amends, even sacking its entire legal team involved in the case against the CJ, the judiciary is in an unforgiving mood.

“It is so very refreshing to pick up the morning paper and see the SC being a prominent player in determining national outcomes,” political analyst Masooda Bano says. This is new to most Pakistanis.

The President is keen on a deal that will allow him to retain his powers. Till a couple of months back he was unwilling to take off his uniform, which he termed his “second skin”. Now that seems inevitable.

Local paper headlines screamed “President agrees to take off second skin” as there was talk earlier this week of a possible deal with Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the country single largest political party.

However, Bhutto is playing hardball with the General. Not only does she want him to resign as Chief of Army Staff, but curb his powers in his new role if elected president. She also wants the restriction on third time prime ministers to go.

It is the third condition that has resulted in a deadlock. The president’s camp believes, and possibly rightly, that Bhutto and Musharraf would be unable to get along. However, Bhutto feels that its now or never to have this clause removed. If that happens, there will once again be a troika in place with powers shared by the President, Prime Minister and the COAS. How long such an arrangement will last remains to be seen.

The second question on the minds of many is who will be the next COAS. This choice will also determine how the country is ruled in the coming years and what path it will take. One of the favourites is General Ashraf Kiani, who currently heads the ISI. In all this confusion, the only thing certain is that the political arena in Pakistan is fully charged. Kamila Hayat, a freelance columnist writes in an article “President Musharraf has worked himself into a tight corner from which there may be no escape.”

Already, former PM Nawaz Sharif has announced that he will return to Pakistan on September 10. With the advent of the holy month of Ramzan in mid-September, there is a possibility that there will be some respite for both politicians and government in the month. By that time, however, Musharraf expects that he would have been re-elected president. However, a lot of action from every political quarter of the country is on the cards in the next fortnight.