Books on Pakistan
Update No: 020 - (24/09/07)
Nawaz Sharif, the third wheel
After the Supreme Court ruled in August that Nawaz Sharif could return to
Pakistan, he did try to do so in September, only to be sent off to Saudi Arabia
after just four hours in his native land. While this outcome was not unexpected,
the attempt to re-enter the country appears to have bolstered Sharif's
popularity, particularly in his native Punjab . By contrast, the popularity of
the other main opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, is declining after she
admitted to being negotiating a deal with President Musharraf. At the end of
August sources very close to Musharraf gave the deal as 'almost done', following
the apparent decision of Musharraf to resign as army chief by 15 November.
Musharraf apparently means to quit as army chief if he is re-elected president,
and to be sworn in as a civilian president, a compromise between his desire to
quit after being sworn in and Bhutto's demand that he quits before the
re-election. A deal might cost dearly to Bhutto since Musharraf is becoming
unpopular in Pakistan: polls put those having a favourable opinion of him below
40%. While just a few months ago Nawaz Sharif seemed to have very limited
support, the latest polls almost place Sharif and Bhutto neck and neck in terms
of popularity. In part because of this and in part because Musharraf further
compromised his credibility by ignoring the verdict of the Supreme Court on
Sharif's right to return, the Bhutto-Musharraf deal is once again in doubt.
Bhutto might be forced to refuse the offer of a deal even if her conditions were
met, particularly if Sharif's eviction caused a popular backlash. For the moment
being she seems to be coping with the situation by raising her price: Bhutto is
now demanding not only that Musharraf resigns as chief of staff of the army and
that corruption charges against her are removed, but also that he drops the
presidential power to sack the prime minister. She is also asking that Musharraf
drops his PML-Q party and expresses support for her PPP. The move might also be
a result of doubts concerning the durability of a deal with Musharraf.
Siege on Musharraf tightens
A Musharraf-Bhutto deal would also be weak because it is seen in Pakistan as
being sponsored by the Bush Administration, which is utterly unpopular in the
country. Nawaz Sharif is also likely to hit hard at Bhutto if her corruption
charges are removed - but his own are not.
Some even within the cabinet seem to be betting that Musharraf will not be able
to maintain the situation under control. Not least because the courts remain
random pieces on the board, still with moves to be made. Ishaq Khan Khakwani,
Minister of State for Information Technology, resigned in September over
Musharraf's plan to be re-elected without resigning as army chief first, maybe
hoping to ingratiate Sharif and the crowds. Aware that Sharif has been gaining
ground after his 'brave act', Bhutto is now planning to return to the country as
soon as possible.
Musharraf in the meanwhile is also feeling under pressure from the army, after
episodes of mutiny and desertions in the NWFP. The intensified fight against
Islamic militants is not popular within its ranks. The shake-up of the army's
top positions in the second half of September might possibly be related to this,
although it mainly appears to be meant to place Musharraf's loyalists in all key
positions before he quits as army chief. It must be remembered that if he
resigns as army chief, another general will be appointed to this powerful post!
The rising climate of uncertainty is having a negative impact on foreign
investment, which declined by 16% during July-August, to US$319 million. The
uncertainty is beginning to be reflected in internal investment too:
privatisation proceeds declined by 7.7% in July-August, to US$376 million.
Lehman Brothers now advises that the risk of a Pakistani debt default is rising
significantly, while Standard & Poor's already cut its credit rating outlook
to "stable" from "positive" after the Lal Masjid mosque's