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Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019

Pakistan generals meet as Musharraf faces the boot

Eyes were on Pakistan's generals on Friday for any gesture of support for President Pervez Musharraf the day after a four-month-old civilian coalition declared plans to impeach the former army chief.

world Updated: Aug 08, 2008 14:03 IST
Simon Cameron-Moore
Simon Cameron-Moore

Eyes were on Pakistan's generals on Friday for any gesture of support for President Pervez Musharraf the day after a four-month-old civilian coalition declared plans to impeach the former army chief.

The ex-commando, who seized power in a coup nine years ago, has yet to make any public response after being given the option of facing a confidence vote in parliament or being impeached.

A session of the National Assembly, Pakistan's lower house of parliament, has been called for Monday, coincidentally Musharraf's 65th birthday, to start what could be a lengthy process unless the president decides to bow out without a fight.

The prospects of the nuclear-armed Muslim country that is also a hiding place for al Qaeda leaders lurching into a fresh bout of instability will be viewed with trepidation by the United States and other Western nations, and regional neighbours.

A meeting of the army's top brass reconvened on Friday at the headquarters in Rawalpindi, which neighbours Islamabad.

A military spokesman had called the meeting, which began on Thursday, a regular gathering of corps commanders. Analysts believe the generals will want to watch how the situation unfolds.

"They will, of course, look at it with concern but it depends upon whether it's going to be smooth or it's going to be turned into a mess," said Ayaz Amir, an anti-Musharraf politician in the National Assembly, and a former army major.

"They will have their concerns, but having concerns is one thing and sending in the tanks is quite another."

Pakistani has yo-yoed between civilian and military rule throughout its turbulent history, but the army's image took a battering during the Musharraf era, particularly over its role supporting an unpopular U.S.-led war on terrorism.

The civilians, this time, came back to an economy on the brink of a meltdown, with people suffering spiraling food and fuel prices, and Islamist militancy spreading across the northwest.

Investors in a stock market that has lost 38 percent since peaking on April 21, recovered some nerve on Friday, gaining 2 per cent.

Musharraf was blamed for the country's multiple crises by leaders of the two principal parties at a news conference on Thursday.

Back together again Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto and head of the coalition, together with Nawaz Sharif, the premier Musharraf overthrew, announced the plan to impeach the president.

Sharif's party said on Friday some ministers would rejoin the cabinet, having pulled out last May, after Zardari had backtracked on a commitment to reinstate Supreme Court judges Musharraf had dismissed during emergency rule late last year.

It said the rest would rejoin once the judges are restored.

Musharraf has said in the past he would resign rather than be dragged through an impeachment process by a parliament filled with enemies.

He has also said he will not use powers to dissolve parliament, but critics say the unpredictable president suffers from a "saviour complex", and he could do just that in order to remove rivals he believes are making a mess of running Pakistan.

To do it he will need the army's backing, analysts say. Shafqat Mahmood, a former government minister and political analyst, described it as his worst case scenario.

"Then the entire political forces will join hands together, there is a complete conflict, there is turmoil, rallies .... that will be a very bad scene for Pakistan," Mahmood said.

The army has been retreating from politics under the new chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, whom Musharraf promoted to replace himself last November.

While the army had accepted a switch to civilian rule which began with the defeat of pro-Musharraf parties in an election on Feb. 18, it was supposed to be a transition, and the generals could react badly to any humiliation of their former chief.

Kayani was not only Musharraf's head of intelligence, he was also closely involved in making deals with Bhutto for her return to Pakistan last year, and Zardari was believed to have inherited those terms.

Zardari's decision to confront Musharraf could test Kayani's resolve to lead the army back to its constitutional role.