Books on Pakistan
Update No: 026 - (26/03/08)
Coalition in the making
As expected, in March the opposition parties reached a power-sharing agreement
over the formation of the new government. The PPP, the PML-N, the ANP and the
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami will be the components of the coalition and the positions
will be distributed on the basis of the seats held in the parliament. The PPP,
however, is still struggling to find a suitable prime ministerial candidate; the
leadership of the party claims to be engaged in consultations with the base. The
coalition partners seem to have agreed to reinstate the 60 judges sacked by
Musharraf, but they could face opposition by the Supreme Court, now staffed with
The correlations of power are already clearly changing. Ali Asif Zardari,
Benazir Bhutto's widower and current leader of the PPP, has now been cleared of
corruption charges by a Pakistani court. This does not mean, however, that
rumours and allegations about his links to the underworld have stopped. The
Americans in particular view him as a potential political liability. Another
sign that the state bureaucracy has begun to realign is the resignation of Ijaz
Shah, the chief of the Intelligence Bureau, one of Pakistan's three intelligence
agencies, controlled by the federal government (the other two are controlled by
Quo vadis Musharraf?
Over the last few weeks there has been much speculation about Musharraf's fate.
British and American diplomatic envoys have been repeatedly reported to be
putting pressure on the politicians to spare Musharraf and leave him as
president. This implies not re-instating the Chief Justice, who would presumably
invalidate Musharraf's election last year. The PML-N looks particularly unhappy
about the British and American stance, not least because they made of the
reinstatement of all the judges sacked by Musharraf one of their main battle
horses. American commentators still believe that the PPP might be convinced to
work with Musharraf. They are not keen, sensing that it would be expensive in
terms of popularity, but Zardari's own weak position at the top of the party
might give Washington some leverage and room for blackmail. Public opinion is
also hostile to Musharraf staying on, as it is hostile to British and American
interference. Musharraf is trying to provide additional reasons for the
Americans to support him, by giving them greater freedom to carry out pilotless
air strikes inside Pakistani territory, which adds to the popularity of neither.
The Americans seem inclined to further exploit what they see as Pakistan's
current weakness and internal division in order to enhance their position in the
country. They have issued requests to allow a greater freedom of movement for
its officials inside Pakistan territory and other privileges, including judicial
immunity, but there is strong opposition in Pakistan by all the Ministries
involved, including Defence.
Press reports have appeared that Musharraf was considering to resign in exchange
for guarantees that he would not be prosecuted, but so far none of these has
All out war or negotiations?
The position of the army has been somewhat ambiguous. Chief of staff Ashfaq
Parvez Kiani has once declared his desire to stay out of politics, then the
army's support for the president. It is worth noting, however, that until the
beginning of March his line of action seemed to be diverging from Musharraf's.
While the latter seemed ready to align closer and closer with the Americans in
the effort against the militants, Kiani wanted to resume negotiations and keep
military operations to a minimum. While the army was initially hostile to a fill
fledged counter-insurgency campaign, the rising losses are now hardening its
stance versus the militants and Kiani might have to get tougher too. Although
the militants have lost much of their popularity inside Pakistan when they
started killing other Pakistanis (as opposed to Indians or Afghans or
foreigners), there is almost no support inside Pakistan for an alliance with the
Americans against the militants. The latter, maybe sensing the shift, are now
openly offering truces to the elected politicians.