Issue No 12, Oct 07-13, 2002 | ISSN:1684-2075 | satribune.com


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Fresh deals offered to Shahbaz Sharif, Yousaf Raza Gilani

Musharraf takes a Big Gamble as Pakistan Goes to Polls

Special SAT Report

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan goes to polls on Thursday, Oct 10, with no clear winner in sight, no national leader even in a position to claim victory nationwide, no single person looking like the next prime minister and the military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, sitting on the edge of his seat, thinking whether he had committed a major blunder.

All indicators show that the major political parties led by exiled leaders Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain, still enjoy a commanding position among the voters and if massive vote rigging is not resorted to, each will get a big chunk of seats.

But all have complained of heavy pre-poll rigging in shape of official interference, forcing popular politicians to change loyalties, use of official machinery to support campaigns of favorite candidates and pre-qualifications and disqualifications of others on a large scale.

As individual politicians wind up their campaigns, since no national campaign by any political party was visible on any countrywide issue, the one question in all minds is who will be chosen by the army as the new prime minister, as still every one believes it will be General Musharraf who will be selecting the PM and not the people of Pakistan electing their head of government.

Musharraf has tried twice in the past to make a deal with both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto on unacceptable terms but SA Tribune has learnt that new lines of communications have again been opened with Shahbaz Sharif as the official assessments indicate a big swing in favor of Benazir Bhutto’s PPP, although she has personally been disqualified and thrown out of the race.

Shahbaz Sharif has also not been allowed to run for the National Assembly but he could be maneuvered in as there is no time fixed for calling the session of Parliament to elect its leader. This issue is also complicated by the fact that the Senate would not be elected until one month after the NA polls and this constitutional lacuna has to be filled.

The obvious choice of the army is the band of turncoat politicians, led by the Choudhries of Gujrat, forming what is now known as the “King’s Party”. Three years ago when General Musharraf came to power, he spoke against these very politicians. Today he is seeking their help to perpetuate his own rule amid disclosures of scandals which match those found in any political government.

General Musharraf had intelligently kept his cards close to his chest and no one is yet sure of who will be picked as the Leader of the House, a prerogative which the elected House should be enjoying in normal democracies. The secret agencies indulging in back door politicking and Musharraf’s trusted aides have made it somewhat known that the largest Punjab province will go to the Choudhries of Gujrat.

But SA Tribune has learnt even this is not yet a done deal. Until recently Musharraf’s main political wheeler and dealer, his principal secretary Tariq Aziz and the ISI Chief were trying to woo Multan’s jailed PPP leader, ex-Speaker Yousaf Raza Gilani, to break away from the party and in return become the Chief Minister of Punjab, leading the King's Party, the PML (Quaid-e-Azam).

Choudhry Shujaat was also asked to visit Gilani’s wife to offer mediation, without being told about the Chief Ministership’s offer. Shujaat did meet Gilani’s wife in Lahore and told her he was ready to help in Gilani’s release from jail, as he did in the case of another politician Syed Ghous Ali Shah of Sindh. Gilani’s brother in law was also present when Shujaat visited Gilani’s wife and made the offer. Later Tariq Aziz also met Gilani's wife with the real offer of Chief Ministership.

Reportedly Gilani has rejected these offers saying he would not ditch his party at the time of a crisis specially when he had already suffered one year in jail on frivolous charges of misusing official cars. Many others, who were accused of similar charges, have not even been asked a single question, including ex-Senate Chairman Wasim Sajjad. Gilani was given a 10 year jail sentence.

Apart from these latest maneuvers, General Musharraf had been promising the prime ministership to all major leaders in the hope that any one of them would emerge with enough numbers to beat others. So at various times, Sardar Farooq Leghari, Mian Mohammed Azhar, Imran Khan, Ejaz ul Haq, Ilahi Bux Soomro and Ghulam Mustufa Jatoi have been appearing as possible nominees.

None of them can however claim to command a majority on his own and would have to depend heavily on the carrot and stick of General Musharraf to get a vote of confidence in the House.

The other issue giving sleepless nights to General Musharraf is his own position as President of Pakistan as no one has accepted his version that the fraudulent April referendum gave his a five year term. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has recently been showing signs of shifting its position as judges have been making observations that the laws and amendments promulgated by General Musharraf shall have to be ratified by the new Parliament.

In such a scenario it is likely that the President’s election is also thrown open and that is where Benazir Bhutto is reportedly calculating her entry into the equation, although under no circumstances the army would allow her to even contest for the top position against General Musharraf, let alone let her win it and assume the job.

All this means an uncertain immediate future for Pakistan, and specially General Musharraf, whose sole source of strength is now the support he enjoys in Washington. But that could also change if the elections throw up a credible alternative leadership.


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