Musharraf Takes Oath; Nawaz Sharif to Boycott Elections

The Nawaz Sharif-led All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) — with the exception of Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F — will boycott the upcoming elections.

Bhutto’s People’s Party will take part in the polls. She has also deferred the restoration of the judiciary to once the new parliament comes in.

Earlier today, Pervez Musharraf took the oath for the presidency in civilian garb. He said, “I think we are coming out of the storm” and that “come hell or high water, elections will be held on January 8.  Nobody [will] derail [them].”

The storm, in fact, appears to be coming back onshore.

From Gen. Musharraf to Mr. Musharraf

This morning Pakistan time, General Pervez Musharraf resigned from the armed forces, ending his 46-year military career. Tomorrow, he will take the presidential oath for another 5-year term as a civilian and emergency rule could be lifted.

Musharraf, lasting longer than most – myself included – expected, is teetering through what he describes as the third phase of his transition to civilian rule. But he faces an enormous set of challenges and a number of wild cards that increase his and Pakistan’s precariousness.


“And now, the end is near, and so I face, the final curtain.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.…
Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew,
When I bit off, more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up, and spit it out.
I faced it all, and I stood tall,
and did it my way….
The record shows, I took the blows —
And did it my way!
I did it my way.”
- Frank Sinatra, “My Way”

Musharraf’s resignation from the army isn’t a concession to his opponents or foreign governments; rather, he’s following through on his desired course of political transition. The emergency, as I’ve argued before, is a means for Musharraf to secure a political transition on his own terms.

As early as November 15, Musharraf said that he’d shed his uniform by the end of the month. Resignation from the army wasn’t much of an issue. Musharraf made sure that loyalists would fill positions as army chief, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, ISI director general, and corps commanders.

Essentially, the issue was presidential power. Musharraf wanted to ensure that once the uniform was removed, he’d be assured not just the presidency, but the presidency whose powers he vastly increased through the Legal Framework Ordinance. These powers are critical for him to continue military-led nation-building. Musharraf, as William Millam — among others — has noted, feigns himself to be indispensable for Pakistan’s progress. In his farewell address to the military today, Musharraf referred to the army as the “savior of Pakistan,” and the guardian of its security and progress.

Musharraf has reasonable backing from the armed forces; his real obstacles are a functional judiciary, aggressive media, and a viable parliament. This trio would create greater scrutiny and oversight over his activities.


It is the media coverage of the first attempt to depose Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry that brought Musharraf’s regime to one of its weakest points ever earlier this year. Musharraf suspended Chaudhry in March of this year — a first in Pakistan — on dubious charges. A movement to restore Chaudhry to office picked up, with the chief justice making visits to major Pakistani cities. The government thwarted his attempt to reach Karachi on May 12 and its coalition party, the militant Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), led a brutal day of street violence broadcast live on television in which dozens were killed. Musharraf stayed out of the public light for days, appearing a week later in a long, difficult interview with Talat Hussain of Aaj Television, whose program the government has recently forced off air. The experience of that week is something Musharraf would not like to repeat.

As a result, he sought to curb judicial checks on executive power, hammered the independent press, and is working to shape a hung parliament that has little chance of repealing constitutional amendments vastly empowering the president.


Musharraf’s loss of legitimacy has left him with strong-arm tactics and political manipulation. It is an ironic twist of fate.

In 1999, Pakistanis were fed up with Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto – many accepted Musharraf with open arms. Musharraf was seen as saving Pakistan from Sharif, who increased his prime ministerial powers, attacked the judiciary, and waged war on the press.

Eight years later, their political fortunes have reversed. Both, especially Sharif, are more popular than Musharraf, who now looks much like the man he overthrew.

The reversal of fates is part of the deleterious cycle of alternation between civilian and military rule that has stunted Pakistan’s growth.

It could have been different for Musharraf, who very much has the memory of Ayub Khan and others in the back of his mind. He’s very much wanted a smooth transition to qualified civilian rule with lasting reforms.

But, like many previous Pakistani rulers, Musharraf squandered public support, abused executive power, and failed to establish institutional change that will outlive him. Based on historical precedent, the odds are the baby will go with the bathwater.

Musharraf missed opportunities to transition politically with institutional and popular support. And he is unlikely to ever gain those back.


The utility of Musharraf’s corporatism has declined considerably. Segments of Pakistan have benefited from his economic reforms, but the middle and lower classes are increasingly strained by inflation and disdain the free reign given to the “land mafia” and the Karachi Stock Exchange’s insider traders.

The rich-poor divide is growing. At the far end of Karachi, a seven star hotel is being built along with many other Dubai-style projects. But away from the rising fantasy land, in the heart of the city, its majority deals with immense congestion, infrastructural decay, poverty, pollution, violent crime, and daily blackouts. These problems have been exacerbated by relinquishing the city to the MQM.

Pakistan’s economic growth under Musharraf has been considerable. But its agricultural sector and textile industry – the big employers and exporters – have suffered from benign neglect. The textile industry has lost market share to China, India, and Bangladesh. The reason isn’t quality of goods, but pricing. Industrialists believe their competitive disadvantage can be relieved through targeted subsidies.

Macro-level structural reform and privatization have created active banking and telecom sectors and a marked growth of services industries. But Pakistan is a country where roughly 2/3 of the population is below the poverty line and a majority is illiterate. Little has been done to catalyze manufacturing growth – despite the country’s large labor pool.

Politically, Musharraf has surrounded himself with a mix of rootless technocrats, clowns, and thugs.

His recent prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, was brought in on loan from Citigroup. Aziz, an effective economic manager, failed to build a popular base. As a result of this (and possibly machinations by the Chaudhry cousins), he won’t be running in the upcoming elections and could possibly move back to the U.S.

Ahmed Raza Kasuri, a legal aide to Musharraf, has appeared on national television several times cursing like Andrew Dice Clay. Wasi Zafar, the previous law minister, came on the most watched public affairs program and vigorously scratched his groin area while knowingly in the camera shot. His claim to fame, however, is an appearance on Voice of America in which he threatened to harm another panelist.

Musharraf’s main political allies, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Pervaiz Elahi, have little popular appeal beyond their mid-sized city of Gujrat. Shujaat heads the Musharraf allied PML-Q party, but he is an atrocious public speaker and a recipient of widespread ridicule. Musharraf could supplant them with Mian Azhar, the popular Lahori who preceded Shujaat as PML-Q head.

A key member of Musharraf’s political coalition is the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), led by Altaf Hussain, currently in exile in London. The MQM led a violent wave of violence in Karachi in the late 1980s and early 90s and still effectively holds the city at gunpoint. They are believed to run the prolific mobile phone snatching network that not only nets dozens of phones daily, but also all too often kills those who don’t give up their phones immediately. It’s a deadly mix of identity politics, illicit trade, and youthful rage. The MQM, however, serves as a check on the PPP’s presence in Sindh.


As a civilian, Musharraf will become increasingly dependent on a popular base. But the political party he assembled is one of turncoats and technocrats. Its very existence is challenged by the return of Nawaz Sharif, whose party it broke off from. While Sharif is originally the political child of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, his popular appeal – particularly in Lahore and elsewhere in urban Punjab – is significant. He and his brother, more than anyone in Musharraf’s camp, have the political weight to lead a mass political party.

Musharraf’s deal making with Benazir, at Washington’s urging, was incomplete in its exclusion of Sharif. Nawaz was recalcitrant, but any meaningful effort toward national reconciliation in Pakistan has to include the military and heads of the two major political parties. Why? Because those left out always play the role of spoiler. And the two paired together collude against the one. Years later, the roles are switched, but the country’s challenges remain.

Moreover, resting the nation’s stability on a deal with Benazir Bhutto — of all people — is naive and misguided. If she ascends to the premiership — most likely through a weak coalition with the PML-Q and MQM — she is almost certain to challenge Musharraf head-on. Benazir has no aspirations to become Musharraf’s Shaukat Aziz; she will fight to create a viable premiership and reduce Musharraf’s presidential powers. Once she has a foot in the door, there’s no telling what she’ll do.

Vis-a-vis the major power brokers, Musharraf — at the moment — has no real challengers. Bhutto’s push will occur after the elections. Sharif hasn’t had enough time to field a large number of candidates for the elections, though PML-Qrs can defect to his side once the new parliament comes in. But Musharraf’s PML-Q has been in election-mode for quite some time and this year’s record-high budget is designed to earn the ruling party public favor.


There is, however, a major wild card in the form of Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the new army chief of staff.

Kayani brings a fresh, well-regarded face to the command of Pakistan’s army. Indeed, much weight has been put on the shoulders of this “good soldier” who has come from humble roots.

The new chief of the army has reportedly created a division of labor with Musharraf. Kayani sticks to his formal job description and handles the many security challenges, such as in Swat, while Musharraf focuses on political affairs.

It is said that Kayani doesn’t have much political ambition. It’s unclear as to whether that’s a result of his insular personality or a strong view that the military shouldn’t be involved in politics. Previous Pakistani presidents have chosen what they saw as a benign COAS, only to find the opposite later.

Kayani was reportedly silent during Musharraf’s March meeting with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, as the latter was being deposed. Furthermore, he was “neutral” on the imposition of emergency rule, when Musharraf queried his closest advisers.

The meaning of the poker-faced general’s behavior is unclear. Was he undecided about the treatment of the chief justice and suspension of the constitution? Or was he opposed to the prevailing consensus, but unwilling to openly express polite opposition to Musharraf — then his military senior?

While Kayani’s personality and past behavior are critical, the dynamics change significantly as he establishes himself at the army’s helm. Loyalties within the service begin to shift toward him. Grievances and demands within and without the army are channeled to Kayani, perhaps compelling him to play a role he has avoided.

In other words, while Kayani may be averse to politics, the institutional and power dynamics within Pakistan might force him to jump into the ring. Kayani has been deferential to Musharraf the chief of army staff — his military superior; but how will he view Musharraf, a civilian president, especially when that president becomes at loggerheads with an aggressive prime minister (i.e. Bhutto)?


The story will not end if and when the new parliament comes into session next year. Pakistan will remain deeply fractured and the elite discord that has ravaged the country since Jinnah’s death will remain. Musharraf once had a mandate to make lasting institutional change based on a national consensus. The tragedy of emergency rule is that it effectively meant the end for Musharraf — whose strengths are as compelling as his flaws — to bring Pakistan the viable, lasting governance framework it has never had. Instead of rising above the discordant elite and, through popular support, bringing them together, he has muddied himself and joined the fray. Pakistan, after eight years of Musharraf, seems in many senses to be back at square one.

BREAKING NEWS: Emergency reportedly to be lifted tomorrow

GEO News reports that the government of Pakistan will end emergency rule tomorrow.

Musharraf’s Farewell Speech to the Army

Earlier today, Pervez Musharraf gave his farewell address to the army of Pakistan, passing the baton on to Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.

Musharraf appeared very stoic, if not discomfited; his successor, Kayani, was calm and cool. Nonetheless, the speech was revealing, with Musharraf detailing the formative role the army has played in his life and the role it should play as nation-builder and guardian of Pakistan.


Musharraf began his address by thanking Kayani and others for the honor they gave him.

He stated that after 46 years, he is saying goodbye to the army.

The outgoing chief of army staff said, “This army is my life. This army is my passion. I have given this army my love.”

Musharraf stated it was difficult to translate his sadness into words. He described the army as a family — a family that has given him its complete love and loyalty.

He added, that everything good has its end. Everyone has their time to go. This is how life works.

Musharraf continued by saying that while he’s sorry that he has to relinquish command of this “family,” he knows that he spent his 46 years with happiness and honor.

The army, said the former chief of staff, has provided him with many lessons. It has shaped the man he is — all of him. Everything he has learned — his knowledge, confidence, and people and leadership skills — has been taught to him by the army.

Musharraf then highlighted his army experiences. They included two external wars; internal security duties in Sui and Dera Bugti; flood relief; and a year’s service in a high-altitude area.

He said, he had comrades die in his arms during his war. The memories of difficulty and struggle, he remarked, are long-lasting.



Next, Musharraf went on to describe his view of the Pakistan army and its role in the country.The army, he said, is an integrating force. It defends national honor and integrity. It and its members are the “saviors of Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s army, commented Musharraf, defends the country from foreign attacks, as well as internal dangers, such as IEDs and suicide attacks. It has brought relief after floods in Balochistan, earthquakes in NWFP and Azad Kashmir. The army, said Musharraf, has reached areas inaccessible by machinery — such as when it developed roads in the remote Karakoram Valley.

Musharraf said it has been an honor to command the army and those who point a figure at or complain about it trouble him. These individuals don’t know, he commented, that the army is the guardian of Pakistan’s security and development.


Musharraf said there is much “pressure” on the army today. Kashmir has always remained problematic. But today, FATA is a source of consternation and there are challenges in the settled areas of the NWFP. Balochistan has its security problems, though its state has improved.Musharraf conceded that the army is “stretched” to the “limit.” But at the same time, he asserted his belief that this “world class army” can rise to the challenges. He told his fellow service members that “when we put this uniform on, we seal our fate…to risking our lives for our country.” He described it as a trust and duty that can’t be shied away from.

Musharraf asserted that “we” — the army — “has to bring this country forward,” knocking out any obstacles along the way. The army, he said, has to face the current challenges and dangers and he is certain that it is prepared.

He expressed his contentment that he, in his opinion, leaves the army in “good condition” with the best equipment and training ever.


Musharraf said that he’s known Gen. Kayani for over 20 years — since the latter was a colonel. He said he has been aware of Kayani’s greatness as a soldier and is certain that the army under him will reach new heights. Musharraf added that Kayani will give the army the dedication he’s shown him. He prayed that God preserves Kayani and enables him to lead the army with confidence and style, taking it to new thresholds.


Musharraf concluded as he began — very emotionally. He said, “I have taken off the uniform, but my heart and mind will always be with you.” Musharraf, now-ex chief of army staff, said he will remain concerned over the army’s interests and state.

Missing in Pakistan

The “Lion” Has Landed: Nawaz Sharif Returns to Pakistan

Nawaz Sharif arrived at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport this evening local time. Despite the arrests of 1,800 PML-N workers, thousands have gathered at the airport to greet the deposed Pakistani prime minister. Nawaz addressed the crowd, denying that he came to Pakistan on the basis of any deal. GEO reports that he announced that his party will run in the upcoming elections, while PTV quotes him as stating that the decision will be made by the All-Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) — an oppositional alliance headed by Sharif’s party. The APDM announced yesterday that it will boycott the elections if the government does not “lift the state of emergency and withdraw the Provisional Constitution Order, restore the Constitution and the pre-PCO judiciary and release all political activists, lawyers and judges.”

However, the PML-N will likely submit their nominations for elections tomorrow. After all, that is why Nawaz, Shahbaz, and Kulsoom have returned today — tomorrow is the deadline for turning in nomination papers. They can withdraw their nominations by December 15.

Should the Sharif brothers attempt to run in the elections, they will incur some major roadblocks. Both have convictions that likely make them ineligible for elections.

Militant Attacks in Rawalpindi; Third Since September

For the third time in recent months, military targets in Rawalpindi — the nerve center of Pakistan’s army — have been hit by militants likely affiliated with the neo-Taliban.

On September 4, two suicide bombers killed approximately 25 people in attacks on an ISI personnel bus and a market area.

On October 30, a single suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint for the Army’s General Headquarters (GHQ), in not-so-distant proximity to the residence of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Tariq Majeed, killing seven people.

Today, two suicide bombers again attacked an ISI personnel bus and a checkpoint for the Army’s General Headquarters (GHQ), killing at least 30 people.

The militants have failed to penetrate the security cordon around the army’s headquarters. They are unlikely to do so. However, they will clearly continue to attack the perimeters of installations holding high-value targets as well as softer targets associated with the big guns. Attacks at checkpoints distant from Pakistan’s senior military brass are of limited utility alone; however, that perception changes when packaged with blasts that kill dozens of low-mid level personnel elsewhere in the city.

Pakistan’s security services need to improve protection measures for areas where its non-senior personnel congregate. After the multiple assassination attempts on Pervez Musharraf, security has been beefed up for senior Pakistani officials. But more needs to be done for its lower ranked and non-commissioned officers. Insiders cooperating with the militants need to aggressively rooted out; their assistance has likely been essential in recent attacks on unmarked military vehicles in Swat and elsewhere.

The militants seek to demonstrate that they can battle not only on ‘their own’ turf on in the northwest, but also in Pakistan’s major cities and near the heart of the army. They have yet to impact the Pakistani military from the top down; but the army’s leadership cannot afford to be complacent about attacks that could impact them from the bottom up. That requires neither emergency rule nor a stranglehold on public assembly; it necessitates action against militant co-conspirators within Pakistan’s military-intelligence community and a comprehensive review of the security logistics for the military’s installations and personnel.

Nawaz’s Return: Take Two

Nawaz Sharif will be returning to Pakistan on Sunday, announced his brother, Shahbaz, today on ARY One World. This confirms the reports in Pakistani papers over the week of Sharif’s imminent return to Pakistan due to Saudi pressure upon Pervez Musharraf. The deposed prime minister and head of his own faction of the Muslim League will be joined by Shahbaz and wife, Kulsoom.

Sharif’s return to Pakistan can be a healthy development for Pakistan, if channeled in the right direction. He is, however, no hero.

Nawaz speaks today of returning the military to the barracks, but his rise to political power was in large thanks to the support of Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment. He criticizes Musharraf’s centralization of power into an ever-powerful presidency, but Sharif’s own constitutional amendments — passed through a parliament in which his party held a massive majority — were attempts at self-aggrandizement that removed checks on the premier by the president, the parliament, and the military short of a coup. Sharif speaks today of respecting judicial independence and restoring the pre-emergency judiciary, but a gang of his own party leaders and workers stormed the Supreme Court on November 28, 1997 to intimidate Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, who was presiding over a contempt of court case against Sharif. Sharif called into GEO News in its final minutes — largely using the opportunity to make some political points — but he, like Musharraf, engaged in a war on the Jang Group, GEO’s parent company.

Likewise, Benazir Bhutto, Sharif’s long-time rival, is no heroine. Deft at rising to power, Bhutto’s achievements, once there, have been largely limited to her own bank accounts and property holdings. A critic of the military’s role in politics, Bhutto has made her fair share of deals with the generals. Recently a victim of an assassination attempt, Bhutto is alleged to have involvement in that of her own brother, Murtaza. She has difficulty in responding to questions regarding the case, as this video clip vividly demonstrates.

Ironically, Pervez Musharraf has been, of late, resembling the man he deposed — Nawaz Sharif. Some of the similarities: the centralization of and removal of checks on his power, attacks on the judiciary and private media, and abysmal loss of a popular mandate. Musharraf had an eight year opportunity to bring real structural change and stability to Pakistan’s political process. His seven point agenda, which was viewed by many with much promise, lies in the same dust bin as Pakistan’s constitution. Instead of breaking Pakistan out of its destructive cycle of alternating military and civil rule, Musharraf has assimilated into the cycle, maintaining the deleterious status quo best personified by the Chaudhry cousins.

Now back to why Sharif’s return may portend good things politically for Pakistan. As I have argued before, Sharif’s return to Pakistan is necessary for structural reasons. Those left outside political deals of the past have proved to be spoilers. Pakistan needs its major power brokers — and Sharif is one of them — to play inside the arena (Pakistan) and according to the rules (constitutional + compatible norms agreed upon by the power elite). Instead of having politician X complain about military interference in politics while out of power only to use the military against politician Y when necessary, it makes more sense for the military and political elite to come to terms on guidelines — a “code of conduct,” if you will — concerning civil-military relations, executive power, judicial review, and other topics, so that institutions and authentic political competition are strengthened at the expense of Faustian bargains that each bring Pakistan closer to collapse. Sharif’s return increases the possibility of something of the sort being achieved. At the moment, however, Pakistan’s elite political culture lacks the values conducive toward a viable, consensual democracy.

Pakistan’s Election* Season Begins

Pakistan’s Election Commission began accepting nominations today for national and provincial assemblies. As a result, the Pakistani government has released thousands of political prisoners, including senior figures that could run in the elections, such as Imran Khan. Others, such as Javed Hashmi and Aitzaz Ahsan, remain imprisoned, though there have been reports that the latter’s release is imminent. Hashmi has spent more time in prison than out in recent years; it is less likely that he and other PML-N figures will receive a reprieve.

The release of political detainees comes because of Pervez Musharraf’s need to have his elections seen as legitimate. With leading politicians under house arrest or in jail, it would be impossible for Musharraf to make the case that he’s held free and fair elections.

Musharraf will likely space out the good news to not only mix with the bad, but to create a sense that there’s progress, that he’s gradually returning Pakistan to a state of constitutional normalcy.

Toward that, he will resign from the army as early as Saturday — a move that will attract significant attention.

Tomorrow, Bhutto and her PPP will decide whether they will participate in the elections. Most likely, she will state that her party will participate conditionally. They have till Monday to submit nomination forms, but they can withdraw their forms as late as December 15. As a result, Bhutto — due to political pragmatism and pressure from Washington — will probably state tomorrow that her party will file their nomination forms and will withdraw them should Musharraf not meet certain requirements. Bhutto will likely ease up on her calls for restoring the Supreme Court justices to office, as that will mean the end of Musharraf as president, but will lobby hard for the lifting of emergency rule and for a variety of changes to ensure that she won’t be duped into elections rigged against her.

Musharraf, however, has proved in recent weeks that he’s not ready to ditch the PML-Q. Support of the army support will remain critical, but Musharraf will, perhaps, also become increasingly dependent on political support from the PML-Q (i.e. the Chaudhries) as well as the MQM and JUI-F. The Election Commission’s code of conduct does not include the restrictions on campaign funding listed in the October draft version. That means Musharraf’s allies will be flooded with enough cash for them to gain a considerable upper-hand over Bhutto’s PPP.

The continuation of emergency rule will remain difficult for Musharraf. He seems to be quite adamant against lifting emergency rule prior to the elections. But George W. Bush, though describing Musharraf “as a man of his word” yesterday, stated “it’ll be hard for those of us who have belief that he’s advanced Pakistan’s democracy to say…that’s still the case [if elections are held under emergency rule].”

Considering that both Bhutto and the Bush administration are firmly against elections under emergency rule, Musharraf — should he not succumb to the pressure — will have to pull some tricks.  Further disturbance — for example, in the form of a terror attack or assassination attempt — would make the continuation of emergency rule more palatable or ‘necessary’.

November Sweeps Week in Pakistan

With the plug pulled on its leading independent television news channels and power brokers Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, and Pervez Musharraf being relatively mum or cryptic in recent days, it would seem as if the film and television writers’ strike has made its way to Pakistan. In reality, the political drama continues. All is not so quiet on the Pakistani front.

Though the leading mouths have been less charitable since Friday than before, their travel itineraries and behind-the-scenes chatter speak louder.

Indeed, this week and the next will likely witness some significant developments in Pakistan’s political landscape.

John Negroponte visited Rawalpindi-Islamabad from Friday to Sunday. He spoke with Benazir Bhutto via telephone and met with Pervez Musharraf, Tariq Aziz (Musharraf’s childhood friend and national security adviser), Ashfaq Kayani (vice chief of the army), Khurshid Kasuri (previous foreign minister), and Nadeem Taj (ISI chief).

Benazir Bhutto was released from house arrest on Friday and headed to Karachi on Saturday.

Musharraf too made his way to Karachi, spending Saturday and Sunday there. Today, he flew to Riyadh and met with Saudi ruler Abdullah. He’ll head out to Makkah, to perform the umrah — the secondary, non-obligatory pilgrimage — before returning to Pakistan.

Discussions of the significance of the converging and non-converging itineraries have ranged from reasonable attempts at connecting the dots to blatant disinformation or speculation.

Bhutto and Negroponte

Some have pointed attention toward Negroponte’s non-meeting with Bhutto; they merely chatted on the phone on Friday. Bhutto was expected to fly from Lahore to Islamabad to meet Negroponte on Saturday. Instead, she flew to Karachi.

Negroponte certainly had time to meet with Bhutto. He was in Pakistan for 2.5 days and managed to meet Ashfaq Kayani twice, as David Rohde reports. So, did Negroponte refuse to meet with Bhutto on his own accord, or did he do so at Musharraf’s request? It remains unclear. Both theories have weight.

What is clear is that the Bush administration has yet to really embrace Bhutto — at least publicly. If there’s been any embrace, it’s been at arm’s length. White House officials speaking on the record rarely, if ever, refer to her by name; instead, they speak of “moderate elements” and “moderate forces” — i.e. Bhutto and Musharraf — that they hope can join together.

This is done, ostensibly, to assuage those who believe the U.S. seeks to prefigure Pakistan’s elections with an arranged Bhutto-Musharraf marriage. But there are other plausible explanations.

One, it’s possible that the administration doesn’t want to insinuate that a Bhutto-Musharraf partnership would be one of equals. Furthermore, it wouldn’t want to heighten Bhutto’s status should Musharraf be taken out of the equation. Washington would like to see Musharraf’s role, should he vacate the political scene, be played by someone of reasonably similar power and outlook, i.e. Ashfaq Kayani. Due to the military’s power in Pakistan and the primacy of security over all other U.S. interests there, it would like to ensure that Musharraf’s successor wears the pants in the relationship with Bhutto. Only a military person would be able to guarantee action against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as the safety of Pakistan’s nukes. Bhutto’s role, therefore, can be seen as semi-cosmetic.

Secondly, it appears that the Bush administration does not yet fully trust Bhutto. Why, after all, did she need to bring in Burson-Marsteller to do her PR push? Why did she — in her pre-Pakistan return Washington lobbying drive — need to make statements in favor of giving the IAEA access to A.Q. Khan, permitting the U.S. military to act on Pakistani soil, and giving precedence to non-Kashmir issues in peace talks with India? Bhutto likely sensed the administration was not yet completely sold on her and wanted to show that she would be a greater asset than Musharraf.

The administration was likely disappointed with her breaking off talks with Musharraf, calling for the return of the deposed Supreme Court justices, and attempt to hold the Long March. Since Negroponte’s meeting with Bhutto would signal a new level of acceptance of her by the Bush administration, it’s possible that not only Musharraf, but also Negroponte did not want the meeting to occur.

Bhutto’s appearance on CNN’s Late Edition was quite telling. She seems to have been fine with Negroponte’s message to her, but it’s also clear she is being pushed toward talking with Musharraf again. Wolf Blitzer asked Bhutto if she would resume talks with Musharraf if he resigned from the army, lifted the state of emergency, and held free and fair elections. Bhutto seemed genuinely annoyed, resisted answering the question — stating “Wolf, I know where you’re taking me..” — and instead discussed the many factors that would preclude free and fair elections (e.g. interference by local nazims). Trust between Bhutto and Musharraf has deteriorated; they, in fact, seem to have descended into a strong dislike for one another resembling the perpetual Shujaat-Benazir war of words.

Bhutto and Musharraf

The loss of trust between Bhutto and Musharraf will continue to shape their decision making. From Musharraf’s perspective, Bhutto used him to gain re-entry into Pakistan and then started playing the politics of “agitation.” Beneath the glamorous veneer that has enamored the West, Musharraf sees a corrupt and shallow interior. Bhutto believes Musharraf is playing her (and possibly the United States) for a fool. She remains distressed with the level of commitment he’s demonstrated to the PML-Q. Bhutto fears that after election day, she’ll wake up to a Chaudhry Pervez Ellahi premiership; she would head the opposition — used as a pawn to legitimize an election she gained little from. She also doesn’t think Washington is paying the attention it needs to ensure free and fair elections. Bhutto’s demands include a reasonable ability to publicly campaign (including in the Punjab) and local governments to be frozen.

Due to U.S. pressure, Bhutto and Musharraf, however, will likely resume talks — if they haven’t already. They were in Karachi on Saturday and Sunday, stirring up speculation that they resumed negotiations. A meeting this past weekend would seem a bit premature, though their aides are definitely talking to one another.

Still, a resumption of talks isn’t a guarantee of cooperation between the two. Though Bhutto is being pulled toward Musharraf by the U.S. (as well as some of her interests — e.g. the corruption cases), she’s also being pulled away from him by the street (as well as her lack of trust in him and possibly the U.S.). As head of the People’s Party, she cannot afford to swim against the populist tide — which also resonates with many in her party. After insinuating that the charges made against the deposed justices have some basis, she backtracked and began to support their restoration to office. So the street has an influence on her. Bhutto will return to the tables more cautious than ever — ready to jump ship if and when the sun sets on Musharraf.

In the end, she will choose the course she sees as most likely guaranteeing her a return to the premiership. That’s her litmus test.

Musharraf and Nawaz

Musharraf has met with the Saudi leader Abdullah as well as the intelligence chief Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz. Highly speculative reports — likely disinformation — state that he will also meet with Nawaz Sharif, as Sharif is in Jeddah — very close to Makkah, where Musharraf will be doing umrah.

It’s highly unlikely that Musharraf will meet Nawaz. In fact, Musharraf probably wants the Saudis to keep Sharif in captivity till the elections are done. Nawaz’s return would destabilize Musharraf’s political base, the PML-Q, which he’s demonstrated strong loyalty to in recent weeks.

Nawaz claims he has rejected three meeting requests by Musharraf in recent months. Much of his political appeal nowadays stems from him being the anti-Musharraf. Bhutto, in the eyes of much of the electorate, is tainted by her talks with Musharraf. Nawaz Sharif, his tremendous flaws notwithstanding, has — in their eyes — not danced with the ‘devil’. Playing the anti-Musharraf card will be his ticket to political redemption.

If Nawaz were to meet Musharraf, it would likely be under heavy Saudi pressure. They would like to see his return to Pakistan and understand that can only occur in the near-term with Musharraf’s consent. In the end, however, reports of a Nawaz-Musharraf meeting are likely to be disinformation to discredit Sharif, put pressure on the Bhutto camp (with Musharraf saying “I got other options”), or to further distrust within the opposition.

Musharraf hopes to return from Saudi Arabia with assurances that Nawaz Sharif will be held at bay till the completion of the January elections. On Thursday, the Supreme Court will remove the final petition blocking his re-election. Musharraf will, as early as Saturday, resign from the army and begin his civilian presidency.

Elections are scheduled for January 8, 2007. But there’s still much in the air and much that can occur in between now and then.

Approximately 3,000 political prisoners have been released. However, 200 journalists were arrested today, and it remains unlikely that the deposed Supreme Court justices and senior opposition figures such as Imran Khan will be freed; after all, he’s being tried under an anti-terror law. Some have suggested GEO News and ARY One World will resume broadcast in Pakistan, but that would only occur if they concede to governmental censorship. Also, the violence in Swat threatens not only the possibility of elections there, but throughout the NWFP as well.

There are two major questions: will elections occur under emergency rule, and will the opposition parties participate?

Musharraf has shown little willingness to lift emergency rule before the elections. At the same time, he needs the PPP’s participation in order to give the polls the requisite legitimacy. The opposition parties and Washington have made it clear that elections held under a suspended constitution are not acceptable. If he choses to hold elections under emergency rule, he will make sure to balance out the bad news with some good. He will attempt to let some steam out of the pot in a managed fashion. His resignation from the army will be one attempt toward this.

Candidate nominations for the elections will be accepted starting tomorrow, and so we’ll get a stronger sense of the opposition’s intentions soon. The opposition is split between the PML-N-dominated All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) and the PPP-dominated All Parties Conference (APC). The APDM has expressed willingness to work under the APC, but the distrust between and within the two entities remains considerable. Fazlur Rahman of the JUI-F and MMA will not boycott the elections. Furthermore, Bhutto sees her boycott of the 1985 elections as a mistake and fears repeating it.

In the end, the street might be the wild card that makes the decision for the ambivalent political forces. If their protests strengthen and grow in response to a forceful response by Musharraf, then the political opposition — particularly the PPP — will be compelled to distance themselves from him even more. And, if a threshold of violence and instability is passed, senior figures in the Pakistani Army might also decide the same.


Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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