A Note on FATA

Tribal elders today demanded that FATA be made Pakistan’s fifth province or given a special status like the Northern Areas.  They seek the integration of their region into Pakistan’s mainstream yet do not want to lose their influence nor their areas’ distinctness.  The Awami National Party (ANP), which leads the NWFP-governing coalition, would like FATA integrated into the Frontier Province, soon to be renamed Pakhtunkhwa.  This position of the FATA elders, which is also consistant with that of many of the militants, stands in contrast to the Pakhtun nationalist orientation of the ANP.  While the ANP seeks to be the ‘sole spokesman’ of the Pakhtun, this will not be possible given the natural and strategic differences between the Pakhtun within and on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border.

Pervez Musharraf Staying Alive

A headline this week in a Pakistani paper read, “Something is about to happen.”  Alas, nothing did.

There was immense speculation of the imminence of Pervez Musharraf’s resignation and departure from Pakistan.

Asif Zardari called the retired general a relic of the past.   The Muslim League (Nawaz) and the lawyers’ movement called for putting Musharraf on trial.  Some said there was a rift between Musharraf and Ashfaq Kayani.  They alleged that Musharraf considered sacking the army chief and Kayani had reprimanded him in a three hour meeting and recommended his resignation from the presidency.  The chatter, if not accurate, could have been part of a PML-N disinfo strategy to create a wedge between the presidency and the army.  Afterall, Khawaja Asif of the PML-N said that the presidency, perhaps via the PPP, had some time ago offered to give up various powers in exchange for maintaining control over the appointment of military service chiefs.

Also, there were changes in Musharraf’s security detail and talk of his moving to the president’s house.  Senate Chairman Muhammad Mian Soomro, first in the line of succession for the presidency, is returning to Pakistan early from a trip abroad.  Mirza Aslam Beg, former army chief of staff, said that a plane was waiting at Chaklala air base to move out the Musharraf family.  He said Musharraf is under the army’s “protective custody.”

But a gloomy week ended on a good note for Musharraf.  The army has affirmed Musharraf as its “supreme commander in chief” and described his meeting with Kayani as routine.  On Thursday, Musharraf wined and dined with Pakistan’s prime minister, service chiefs, governors, and others representing the apparent coaltion between the PPP and Pakistan’s so-called establishment.

There, he’s said to have had an impromptu meeting Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani.  During the dinner, he gave an address and, in English, denied reports of a rift between him and Kayani.  Last night, U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley spoke with his right hand man, Tariq Aziz.  And today, Musharraf received a call from George Bush, who is said to have reaffirmed his support for Musharraf’s presidency.

And so it seems as if talk of Musharraf’s depature has been greatly exaggerated.  But it would also be foolish to discount the present anti-Musharraf drive in Pakistan and the potentially violent crisis on the horizon.

As I have written several times, June promises to be a volatile month in Pakistan.  It begins with the lawyers’ long march and ends with by-elections.

Aitzaz Ahsan, seemingly undemurred after his talk with Hadley, has promised to take his march to the Army House, where Musharraf presently lives, if he does not resign by then.   Such a development would pit civil society against the PPP & Army, with a strong potential for violence.

Meanwhile, verbal attacks on Musharraf increase.  The shackles on Abdul Qadeer Khan have been loosened.  He’s now talking to the media.  Khan said his confession to nuclear proliferation and other misdeeds was incorrect and made under Musharraf’s pressure.  Chaudhry Amir Hussain, the previous National Assembly speaker and member of Musharraf’s party (he was second in line of presidential succession), said today that Musharraf should be punished for whatever wrong he did.  In this speech, made at a religious gathering, Chaudhry Amir also said that Pakistan was formed on the basis of Islam and Western democracy won’t function there.  Also, he added that the previous government operated on America’s command and that should not continue.  His address is in part pandering to the religious right but also signal of a strategic break with Musharraf.

Talk of Musharraf’s departure will remain somewhat alive.  Tariq Aziz has gone off to Dubai with his son.  Let’s see if he comes back.  Eleven days remain till the long march.  Should Musharraf remain in office, the long march could become a long war.

Musharraf Polarizes Pakistan; Opposition Mobilizes

The opposition to Pervez Musharraf is taking a worrisome turn — one that Musharraf’s supporters inside and outside of Pakistan should take heed of.  Those who would like to see Musharraf’s ouster have been frustrated by the prevention of him being conventionally removed.  Rather than simply calling for his resignation or impeachment, some have upped the antie, calling for Musharraf to be punished under article six of the constitution, which treats the abrogation of the constitution as high treason.  Musharraf, if tried and convicted, could face the penalty of death.  Such talk, though not new, has increased in recent weeks as the PPP and Musharraf have gotten closer.

These hardline positions do not come from the political fringe; they come from the mainstream.

Today, Nawaz Sharif gave a particularly fiery speech in Lahore on the 10th anniversary of Pakistan’s first public nuclear tests, which were conducted under his premiership.  Once again, he framed himself as the leader who resisted foreign pressure and approved the testing of nuclear bombs in response to neighbor and rival India.  Sharif tied his decision to one of his regular themes: the loss of Pakistan’s sovereignty and dignity under the rule of Pervez Musharraf.  Most importantly, he criticized attempts to keep Musharraf in power and called for applying article six on him.  Sharif also said he would join the lawyers’ movement in the streets if the judges are not restored by the current government.  The deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry also called for article six to be applied to the PCO judges, i.e. those who took their oaths when the constitution was suspended.

Similarly, Aitzaz Ahsan of the lawyers’ movement and (less so) the PPP[-Zardari] said today that if Musharraf is not removed by June 10, he will take his “long march” to the Army House (where Musharraf currently resides).  A group of retired army officers also pledged to protest in front of the residence if Musharraf does not vacate it.

Meanwhile, Asif Zardari appears to not be backing down.  The gulf between him and Sharif seems to have grown.  Zardari also said today that [his] government will combat the lawyers if necessary.  But Zardari’s tryst with Musharraf is also causing problems within his party.  Many oppose the idea of him meeting with Musharraf and want him to come to terms with the lawyers’ movement.  Such calls come not only from Aitzaz Ahsan, but also other PPP stalwarts such as Raza Rabbani, Safdar Abbasi, Naheed Khan, and Raja Shahid Zafar.  Zardari has overstretched in his powerplay.  He’s pushed out some senior PPP figures out to create room for his largely unelected loyalists.  At the same time, he’s been muddied by Musharraf.  This could come back to haunt him.

While economic troubles have slightly dampened public support for the lawyers’ movement, it seems to have had little impact on its opposition Musharraf.  The former army general remains a deeply polarizing figure six months after he imposed martial law and three months after the elections in which his allies were routed.   Nonetheless, he remains artificially in power.  And it seems as if in June public opposition to Musharraf will take an increasingly stident, if not violent, turn.  Those who have become perhaps indelibly tied with him, namely Washington and the PPP, definitely have some thinking to do.

Zardari and Musharraf Tensions Likely to Cool

Asif Ali Zardari, so it seems, has regained a backbone and responsiveness to public opinion this week. He’s publicly spoken out against Pervez Musharraf, terming him a barrier to democracy. Zardari also spoke of the immense popular pressure on him to oust the dubiously elected president. Meanwhile, Musharraf’s office said today that it will no longer hold backchannel talks with Zardari.

The present situation is unlikely to last into next week, when Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte will come to Islamabad. The house should be set in order by then.

Negroponte has been highly critical of Pakistan’s talks with militants in the tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province. But he will also probably patch things between Zardari and Musharraf and press for an 18th amendment consistant with what his administration sees as U.S. national interests.

The public image of Zardari-Musharraf tensions is misleading.   Indeed, Husain Haqqani–a long-time critic of Musharraf, Zardari’s senior strategic advisor, and the new ambassador to Washington–met with the Pakistani president today.

So what’s more probable is that both sides are toughening their bargaining positions in the final stages of drafting the 18th amendment.  Zardari is also keen on reversing the public image of him as being too close to Musharraf.  But it will be difficult for his efforts to have much of an impact as they are late and will, most probably, be reversed soon.

The Battle Over the 18th Amendment: From Cold to Hot War?

The People’s Party and Muslim League-Nawaz remain married, but separated. At the moment, they are seeing other people.

Earlier this week, Mumtaz Bhutto, the Bhutto tribe leader and estranged uncle of the late Benazir, met with Shahbaz Sharif in Lahore. Weeks before that, he had said there was no real difference between the PPP and Musharraf-allied PML(Q), Mumtaz has long been a critic of the PPP under Benazir and now Zardari.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that he also met with Aitzaz Ahsan, who alternates between a PPP-lawyers’ movement balancing act and choosing the lawyers. At the moment, Aitzaz is on the lawyers’ corner of the ring and seems ready to tussle. He’s called for a long march on June 10 and withdrew his nomination papers for the National Assembly seat from Rawalpindi. The PML-N also is expected to join the lawyers.

Aitzaz, perhaps others in (now or previously) the PPP, and the PML(N) are preparing for a fight with Zardari and what can be seen as his faction of the PPP. Conflict is not inevitable, but it seems as if the PML(N) as well as Aitzaz are trying to match Zardari tit for tat.

Why? Because of the forthcoming 18th amendment. The federal law minister appeared on TV to discuss it a few days ago. He was on air for perhaps 10 minutes and managed to provide few details of substance. But the insinuations and Islamabad chatter fill in the holes decently.

The 18th amendment is effectively Zardari’s returning the favor to Pervez Musharraf for the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). Zardari, with virtually all criminal cases against him dropped, will indemnify Musharraf for his (self-admitted) illegal acts on November 3, 2007.  Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his stalwart colleagues will be outnumbered by judges loyal, at the moment, to Musharraf and Zardari.  Their powers will be diluted and term will be shortened.  All in the name of “reform.” [Though it seems as if the amendment will include some actual positive reforms such as strengthening the premiership and having Supreme Court appoinments approved by a parliamentary committee.]

Zardari is embracing Musharraf’s euber-allies: the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). And he’s selectively embracing the PML(Q). Manzoor Wattoo of the PML-(Q) (or J) has now joined the federal government as a science and technology adviser. It’s perhaps one way of working around the Chaudhries. Ditching Pervaiz Ellahi and Shujaat Hussain has proven problematic. They now join Hamid Nasir Chatta in meetings with Musharraf.

This arrangement works better for Musharraf & Co. A PML(Q) forward bloc formed soon after the elections. It was expected that they’d join the PML(N). But they waited patiently on the aisles, testing the waters. Their enemy was not Musharraf, but, so they say, Shaukat Aziz and the Chaudhries. Their attempts to de-Chaudhrize the PML(Q) seems to have failed after talk began of the Chaudhries pairing up with Nawaz. (The theme of the past week or so has been: ‘Two can play at that game’.) Multiple forward blocs would water down a PML(Q) already reduced down to size, leaving Musharraf with little political leverage besides the MQM.

In the midst of all this, a budget has to be proposed and by-elections will be held.  The budget, if Pakistanis are fortunate, will pass smoothly.  But the by-elections and 18th amendment will conflate.  And it seems as if Nawaz is ready to capitalize upon this.  In a recent appearance on Capital Talk, he returned to his talking points of the most recent February elections, speaking of Pakistan’s self-respect and sovereignty and the social malaise and desparation caused by economic pressures.  The 18th amendment, if the PML(N) plays it right, will be framed as a ‘minus-160 million formula’–a violation of the basis of the mandate provided by the Pakistani electorate to the present government.  Most Pakistanis in February voted against Musharraf & Co. and favored a PPP-PML(N) coalition and the judges’ restoration.

The 18th amendment will be as bloated as the 17th.  It could move forward at a glacier-like speed or pass with smooth sailing.  Legal advisers from the State Department met with Musharraf’s lawyer, Attorney General Malik Qayyum.  And that could mean that the PPP, PML(Q), ANP, MQM, and JUI(F) are already on board.  That’s not to say things will be honky dory.  The 18th amendment can cost its supporters political legitimacy and even dissent within their rank and file.  One could see the Zardari-led PPP set not only against the PML(N) and the lawyers’ movement, but also elements within.  Alternatively, the PML(N) could provide tacit support to the bill if reports of Musharraf resigning after recieving legal immunity are not disinfo to make it more palatable.

As I’ve written earlier, things are very fluid.  This time around, I’ll also add that it looks like things will also get messy–in June.

M. Abdullah Yusuf: Dancing for Dollars

WARNING: Not easy on the eyes.

M. Abdullah Yusuf is chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue. Apparently he’s resorted to exotic dancing to mitigate the national debt.

Musharraf joins him at the end, but the camera then turns away, perhaps to save us the sight.

A Battle for Punjab or Just Noise?

The appointment of Salman Taseer–a Musharraf-supporter, former PPP politician, and businessman–as governor of Punjab has sparked a heated debate in Pakistan.  Many argue that this is the first firing short, or perhaps the most audible, of a battle for Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province.

But the game is more likely far more complex.  Sandwiched in between the headlines is news of the acceptance of the nomination papers of Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif.  The same election commission rejected their papers for February’s elections on grounds of previous convictions.  This time around, petitions against their eligibility were rejected by the Musharraf-appointed commission.  At the same time, the People’s Party has replaced the cabinet seats vacated by the Muslim League (Nawaz) largely with PPP ministers already in the cabinet (making them in charge of multiple ministries).

In other words, the PPP and Musharraf’s dealings with the PML(N) involve an alternating, and sometimes simultaneous, use of carrots and sticks.  Anything can happen in the coming days, weeks, and months.  But just as many see the PPP and PML(N) set on the path of confrontation, it is also possible that the PML(N) has consented to a safe exit for Musharraf around the time of the 2009 Senate elections when parliamentary numbers for the former general’s impeachment will be very much attainable.

Things are very fluid.  There’s a strong likelihood of Sharif and Zardari entering the National Assembly.  It remains to be seen whether the halls are big enough for the both of them.  But there is also possibility for the PML(N) returning to the cabinet and both parties giving their marriage a second chance.  In the midst though, the roller coaster ride, combined with increasing economic troubles, could delegitimize the democratic process and politicians.

Bajaur Agency Missile Strike Targets Maulvi Obaidullah

GEO News reports of a missile attack tonight in Damadola, Bajaur Agency, where a January 2006 U.S. strike targeted al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri. BBC Urdu, citing a Taliban spokesman, states that the strike occured at approximately 8PM local time (11AM New York/Washington).

Local residents tell GEO that one home has been destroyed. According to the station, fourteen people have been killed.

Aaj Television reports that the target was Maulvi Obaidullah of the Tehreek-e Nifaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM). Their correspondent also says, according to locals, Maulvi Obaidullah’s brother has been killed. Obaidullah’s fate is unclear.

Taliban spokesman Maulvi Umar told GEO that most of the casualties were local residents. The GEO correspondent also reported that the area’s mobile phone networks were having operational difficulty.

PML(N) Resigns, Pakistani Politics Realigns

PML(N) leader Nawaz Sharif wasn’t educated at Oxford, but he’s playing politics smartly. Today, he announced that his party will submit its resignation from the federal cabinet tomorrow, though it will continue to support the government. And a few hours ago, he unexpectedly submitted his papers for the upcoming by-elections.

So what’s Sharif doing? He’s strategically distancing himself from the PPP with a measured protest against the latter’s refusal to reinstate the deposed judges in the agreed manner and time frame.

Sharif’s party can, in the coming weeks, return to the government or completely sever ties with the PPP.

His party’s resignation from the government permits the PPP to proceed on its own course vis-a-vis the judges. Absence from the government provides the PML(N) with plausible deniability should the judges be ‘restored’ but restricted.

If the public finds the PPP’s judicial ‘reforms’ palatable, then Nawaz can return to the government.

But, if they don’t, he can say that he had nothing to do with this and, despite his best efforts, the judges were not restored.

There’s another important influence on Sharif’s decision-making. He’s currently being sidelined by a number of parties. Many, including the Bush administration, hope for a Zardari-Musharraf coalition consisting of the PPP, ANP, PML(Q), MQM, and JUI(F).

Sharif is being pushed out toward the rightists, such as the Jamaat-i Islami. That’s something he can resist if Pakistan’s civil society and the general public backs him.

In fact, Sharif might have the last laugh. A Zardari-Musharraf marriage will not be happy. The PPP’s coalition with smaller parties excluding the PML(N) will be much shakier. All members will be tainted by their association with Musharraf and Zardari. And Zardari will become increasingly reliant upon Pakistan’s so-called establishment as well as foreign benefactors.

And so that’s why PML(N) central committee members urged Sharif to run for the National Assembly. Ostracization will be difficult for Sharif, but might work well for him in the longer term.

If he’s permitted to run (strong chance his papers will be rejected by the Musharraf-appointed election commission), then he could pave his way toward becoming head of the opposition. Who will he be opposing? The loveless multi-party coalition led by Pervez Musharraf and Asif Zardari, whose negative ratings are extremely high.

Zardari has significantly (re)discredited himself, the PPP, and the democratic process in recent weeks. And in the past few days, he and de-facto interior minister Rehman Malik have flirted with strong-arm tactics to intimidate the media. Totally mindless. It’s one thing to politically align with Musharraf. Emulating his behavior is politically suicidal. And Sharif could be the last man standing with honor and credibility en tact.

Pakistan’s Shifting Political Tectonics

So here we are, once again. Different city, but same story. Well, story of.

The (latest) deadline to restore the deposed judges is imminent. Today, Asif Zardari will meet Nawaz Sharif, in London, to ‘resolve’ their differences. Like the previous deadline, the present one could be similarly disregarded. Like last week, the onus to move/decide is on Sharif, not Zardari. Like last week, Zardari can afford inaction. Like last week, Sharif needs to come out with something tangible. But after last week’s charade, one can only view any agreement between the PPP and PML(N) very cynically.

The political tectonics continue to shift decidely in Zardari’s favor. He has made it clear to Sharif that he has other options. Indeed, after meeting Sharif, Zardari will visit none other than the man who put ‘don’ in London: Altaf Hussain.

As the judges’ issue stretches on, Sharif can periodically come out with guarantees from Zardari, but he will also increasingly have to strike a greater bargain.

Sharif will likely get his judges restored. But it looks like he’ll have to accept a constitutional package that essentially negates the judges’ restoration. The deposed judges will be outnumbered by pro-Musharraf judges and restricted in their powers. The court of Iftikhar Chaudhry, it seems, has come to an end.

The minus-one formula could also be revised. Chaudhry could stick around for a year or two, shackled in his chambers and effectively eliminated. But a minus-three formula could emerge, with two more Chaudhries–the additional two being from Gujrat.

Zardari could accept the Musharraf-allied PML(Q) as a coalition partner if it sheds Shujaat Hussain and Pervaiz Ellahi. The Chaudhries might put up a fight but they could also be Shaukat Aziz’d, i.e. made the scapegoats for the previous government’s failures. The new PML(Q) could form a coalition government with the PPP in Punjab and join the government in the center. Or, at the very least, it could stand there in reserve to let Sharif know he’s expendable, and be for the PPP what the JUI(F) was for Musharraf: the not-so-oppositional opposition. The PML(Q) forward bloc could also then return ‘home’ or stay in limbo to yield maximally from their ‘independence.’

Also, Sharif will probably have to accept Pervez Musharraf as president. Weeks ago, Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar described Musharraf as “cashable.” In recent days, Zardari basically repeated the same idea in somewhat more dignified terms. Seems like he’ll be around for a while.

Zardari wants to be the daddy of one large, happy family. But at some point, his political polygamy has a limit, requiring a divorce. He’s leveraged the Musharraf-Sharif rivalary to his advantage, gaining concessions from Musharraf and at the same time rehabilitating his image by holding hands with Nawaz. This balancing act will be difficult to continue.

Finally, it would be a mistake to confuse Zardari’s ascendancy for invulnerability. In fact, he could be guilty of such confusion himself. His appearance on Shahid Masood’s Meray Mutabiq has helped revert his public image to the old, negative one. In the eyes of many Pakistanis, the new Zardari has become the old Zardari again. They find an uncanny similarity between between the Musharraf, Tariq Aziz, and Malik Qayyum team and Zardari, Rehman Malik, and Farooq Naik. The response, or lack thereof, of the Pakistani public remains to be seen.


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

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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