Jun 13, 2007

Musharraf to Eat Crow?

According to Stratfor Musharraf in order to dissolve the growing political storm in Pakistan and secure his own re-election, has decided to eat crow and for a begining reinstate the suspended Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Even then Musharraf at best could only hold on to power as a president sharing power with a prime minister at the head of a coalition government.

Richard Boucher, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, arrived June 12 in Islamabad on a two-day official visit. Topping the agenda of discussion between Boucher and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is Pakistan's increasing crisis of governance. Boucher will relay Washington's interest in having Musharraf remain at the helm, but also will communicate that Musharraf needs to reach an accommodation with his opponents.

The two main reasons informing Musharraf's decision to tough it out in the face of the South Asian nation's rapidly expanding crisis are U.S. backing and the support of the senior generals within Pakistan's military hierarchy. Musharraf also knows that he must demonstrate to both Washington and his own generals that he very much controls the situation to ensure their continued support. To do so he has devised a plan to defuse the political crisis involving reinstating suspended Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, something that also will help create conditions conducive for his own re-election.

Though Chaudhry's reinstatement might provide the embattled general with a brief respite, his bid for re-election is going to be extremely hard to pull off in part due to the increasingly assertive nature of Pakistan's judiciary and the media. Ultimately, there is just too much that can go wrong in the process of securing a second term.

The first step in defusing tensions was the government's June 9 move to withdraw restrictions on the media; this had two effects. First, it satisfied concerns within the Bush administration, which was finding it difficult to support Musharraf while his government was openly limiting free speech. Second, it prevented the anti-Musharraf movement from receiving a sudden and major boost.

In the meantime, the government produced a budget significantly increasing government employee salaries and announced that an election schedule would be released soon after parliament approved the budget. Musharraf himself said June 8 that the nation would hear the good news about the end of the ongoing political crisis. "The ongoing drama will end itself very soon and there is nothing to worry about it," he told members of parliament from the ruling coalition and Cabinet members.

The next step will be allowing Pakistan's Supreme Court to reinstate the chief justice, which will be Musharraf's way of neutralizing the legal community's protests. Once back on the job, Chaudhry will not be able to participate in rallies given his position as a nonpartisan national figure -- thus taking the chief justice and his supporters out of the limelight. The government also will try to block Chaudhry from presiding over cases involving the president on grounds that as a party to a dispute with the president, the top jurist cannot appear unbiased against Musharraf. The chief justice and his allies indeed would like to see Chaudhry's restoration and Musharraf's ouster. The government, however, hopes the restoration will forestall the latter.

The chief justice's reinstatement could provide some brief respite to Musharraf. But the president general must go through the process of re-election, which according to the government must take place between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. The presidential election is highly controversial because Musharraf is seeking re-election from the same electoral college, composed of the current national and provincial legislatures, that elected him in the first place. His opponents have demanded fresh parliamentary elections before the presidential vote. But the main opposition group, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto might be willing to negotiate a deal whereby Musharraf can be re-elected on the condition he steps down as military chief.

Accepting a president in uniform is a redline the PPP cannot cross and sustain its position as the country's largest political party and its reputation of being anti-establishment. Musharraf's uniform constitutes the basis of his power, and assuming the role of a civilian president is a prospect fraught with perils. Even so, mounting pressure to defuse the crisis could force his hand and make him decide to retire from the military, though that would entail another set of complexities.

Ideally, Musharraf wants to remain army chief of staff until after the parliamentary elections to be held sometime in November, though even he knows that under the present conditions that is asking too much. At a bare minimum, however, he wants to remain military chief until the first week of October so he can oversee the next round of routine promotions and retirements of senior generals. That would allow him to stack the military deck with people he can theoretically work with even after becoming a civilian president.

Another hurdle to his re-election is that even if he were to have a deal with the PPP, members of parliament from the Islamist coalition, the Mutahiddah Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) -- which controls one and a half provinces and is one of the largest opposition blocs in parliament -- could see its members tender their resignations, thereby rendering the electoral college dysfunctional. And street protests would come back with a bang should Musharraf try to force his way to re-election. So any deal would have to include not just the PPP, but the MMA and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf ousted from power in 1999.

Balancing the civilian side of his government with the military side is rapidly becoming untenable for Musharraf. As a result, the resolution to the current crisis requires a very complex arrangement that under the present conditions is unlikely to hold. Thus Musharraf at best can hope to share power as a civilian with a much broader array of far more assertive civilians.[Stratfor]

In another report Stratfor dispels the notion that anyone needing to topple the present regime in Pakistan should first get the green signal from Uncle Sam. In other words, America is ready to do business with anyone at the helm in Pakistan and that US-Pakistan relation is strictly a business relationship.

Great expectations have been attached to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher's visit to Islamabad, which began on Tuesday. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is hoping the visit will help him sustain his faltering hold on power. Musharraf's opponents hope the Bush administration will help them eventually force Musharraf from office. The day of Musharraf's departure is imminent; he has simply made too many mistakes and burned too many bridges.

Yet, despite all of his eminent and obvious weaknesses, Musharaff's (many) opponents have not been able to eject him from the scene. This is in part because of an odd belief within Pakistani structures.

Many within the Pakistani political world believe that the player with the most irons in the Pakistani fire is the United States. Understanding that mindset is not particularly difficult. One of the commonalities in Pakistani governments going back to nearly the country's creation is that the United States has ultimately played the role of security supporter, if not outright guarantor. Regardless of whether the opponent was Soviet or Indian, the United States has played a critical role in Pakistani security, leading to the cynical view among many Pakistanis that their governments have been supported by three As: Allah, the army and America. And with the war in Afghanistan almost exclusively supplied via Pakistani supply routes, that does not appear about to change.

Therefore many Pakistani political players -- particularly within the military -- are unwilling to move against Musharraf, no matter how bad things get, without a green light from Washington, for fear they could get burned.

Ultimately, however, such thinking not only misses the point, it is simply wrong. It is Pakistan that holds the balance of power in this relationship, not the United States. And though Islamabad depends on financial and military assistance from Washington, it is Washington that cannot fight the war in Afghanistan without Pakistan, not the other way around. It is the United States that is bogged down in Iraq, not Pakistan.

Strategically, Washington would much rather count India as an ally. It is bigger, richer and the political culture is more similar. Yet the United States is fighting a war that requires troops and materiel to be moved through Pakistan. That means the United States will work with whoever happens to be in Pakistan's big chair, not because Washington wants to, but because it must.

The United States, then, is not allied with Musharraf the person, or the Musharraf government, but with the state of Pakistan -- read: its military. This means should Musharraf suddenly be out of the picture, the United States, after few heartburn-filled meetings, will simply hammer out a new deal with his replacement.

Put another way, the United States does not much care who runs Pakistan as long as there is stability in Islamabad; after all, it currently is supposedly enamored with a man who rose to power via a coup in 1999. And as soon as the various power players in Pakistan recognize that little fact, Musharraf's days truly will be numbered.[Stratfor]

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