WASHINGTON DC, July 12, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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The Crumbling World of General Musharraf

By Najam Sethi

LAHORE, July 12: The political system and strategy cobbled by General Pervez Musharraf’s advisors in 2002 seems to be unraveling in the run up to the local body elections in 2005.

The “revolutionary” grassroots system so beloved of General Tanvir Naqvi has been finally overthrown by the provinces. The Military Mullah Alliance once so dear to the military establishment has become a millstone around its neck.

The Muslim League that was usurped from Nawaz Sharif (so that it could be united and groomed as the King’s Party) is riven with dissent. And efforts to woo the PPP of Benazir Bhutto in order to broaden the base of the regime have amounted to zilch. With Washington and the international community keen on greater democracy, stability, continuity and predictability, we are not terribly sanguine about the political outlook.

General Naqvi, the founder of the high-sounding National “Reconstruction” Bureau, has already become a footnote in Pakistani history. The “revolutionary” local body system that was supposed to become an umbilical chord between the military establishment in Islamabad and the grassroots politician below has been spiked by provincial governments.

The Punjab PML government has amended the Local Government Act by giving the chief minister full powers over district nazims. In Sindh, the PML government has blithely gerrymandered districts to undermine the PPP’s prospects. Now it has chickened out from holding the elections and ordered the city and district governments not to pass their budgets.

But the Jamaat i Islami’s Karachi government has defied the provincial government’s orders. Meanwhile, the government’s current partner (MQM) and former partner (MMA) are sharpening their knives for a full blooded encounter in Karachi if the local polls are held. And everywhere the PML naib-nazims are demanding the accountability of PML nazims across the board while half the members of the PML are insisting that the local polls should be postponed.

The Military Mullah Alliance was manufactured by the establishment and the mullahs were handed more than 60 seats in parliament, two seats in the National Security Council and the slot of the leader of the opposition. They were also catapulted into power in two provinces and Karachi. Now they have become a millstone around General Musharraf’s neck. They refuse to sit in the NSC, they refuse to help the war against terror; they refuse to support the India-Kashmir initiatives, they refuse to allow enlightened amendments to the blasphemy and Hudood laws. Worse, they refuse to prop up General Musharraf as president or army chief.

The Muslim League that was usurped from Nawaz Sharif and strapped to Choudhry Shujaat Hussain and Mushahid Hussain so that it could become a strong, united and fierce fighting force, is bitterly divided. Its Punjab members are against holding local elections not because they can’t win them but because they don’t want the Choudhries to claim credit for victory and entrench themselves politically.

General Musharraf is constantly involved in negotiating truces between its feuding members who are either former prime ministers or future prime ministerial hopefuls – first between Zafarullah Jamali and Choudhry Shujaat and recently between Humayun Akhtar Khan and Choudhry Shujaat.

Meanwhile, the former president of Pakistan, Farooq Leghari, the former chief minister of Punjab, Manzoor Wattoo, and the former head of the Muslim League (J), Hamid Nasir Chattha, are all conspiring to dethrone the Choudhries And what are the Choudhries doing? They are lining up with the Jamaat i Islami to take aim at friends within and enemies without.

Finally, attempts to woo the PPP and PMLN into the fold without Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have stalled. Mr Asif Zardari’s silence since he was released from prison and allowed to leave the country is as stunning as Mr Shahbaz Sharif’s since he was allowed to exit his gilded cage in Saudi Arabia and ensconce himself in London. Both of them are, as Choudhry Shujaat famously put it, “zeros without Nawaz and Benazir”.

But neither Ms Bhutto will relent to a civilian Musharraf as president of Pakistan without a full withdrawal of the cases against her and free rein in the forthcoming general elections, nor will Mr Sharif settle for anything less than the unequivocal exit of General Musharraf and the army from politics. The only option for General Musharraf is to break both parties afresh and compel the new rumps to join his camp in preparation for 2007.

But that’s where it all began in 1999, didn’t it, imprisonment and exile, the making of cases, the breaking of parties, the system change, the pre-election rigging and the constitutional wheeling and dealing?

From 1999 to 2001, the military regime seemed strong at home but weak abroad. After 9/11, it seemed strong at home and strong abroad. Come 2007, however, after the war against terror has abated, and the honeymoon with the Bush regime has fizzled out, and institutional stability is still missing and a national consensus is lacking on the strategic goals of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf could be faced with the prospect of being shown up as weak at home and weak abroad.

This might happen if he continues to make tactical maneuvers for political survival in the short term while losing sight of the national strategic objectives in the long run.

The writer is Editor of The Friday Times where this editorial appeared recently

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