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Ramadan Reprieve for Militants and Zardari

Pakistan’s de-facto interior minister Rehman Malik announced that his government will suspend military operations in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas for the month of Ramadan till the end of the Eid holiday (August 31st to October 2nd).

This ceasefire could provide the 260,000+ internally displaced persons from the Bajaur Agency an opportunity to return to their homes (in whatever shape or form they exist in), though it’s unclear if the relative success of the Pakistani military there has produced a context in which they can return permanently.

Additionally, the cessation of violence could provide the militants with an opportunity to recoup their strength–though they incurred heavy losses in Bajaur, due to the military’s use of air power.  On the flip side, it’s unclear as to how many civilian casualties were produced by the operations.  Minimizing civilian casualties, aside from being a moral necessity, is also essential to a successful counterinsurgency strategy.  There must be a clear moral difference between the insurgents and counterinsurgents in order to gain public support.

Finally, the ceasefire fulfills the demand of both Fazlur Rehman’s faction of the Jamiat-e Ulema-e Islam and parliamentrians from the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas–all of whom will play an important role in the electoral college that will choose Pakistan’s next president.  Fazlu’s main concern is his demand for two cabinet posts and the governorship of Balochistan.  The FATA stuff is to satiate his base and keep the militants off his back.

In short, the blessed month of Ramadan has provided the governing coalition, particularly the PPP & Asif Zardari, as well as the militants a blessing in disguise.

Zardari to Drop Out?

Aaj TV reports that Asif Zardari’s senior advisers have recommended that he drop out of the presidential race.

According to the station, Zardari and advisers are mulling over two options, besides staying on:

  • withdrawing his papers and having Feryal Talpur, his sister and covering candidate, run in his stead;
  • or withdrawing both of their papers and support the PML-N candidate, Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui.

Deciding in favor of the latter would seem to involve bringing the PML-N back into the federal coalition. Zardari would also be wise to restore the deposed judges in full — no fudging around.

As I wrote on the day of Musharraf’s resignation, Zardari would be pummeled from all sides if he sought the presidency. The so-called brilliant move was actually a catalyst for his detractors–and there are many–to unite. Clearly the man whispering in Zardari’s ears gave him bad advice or even set him up. Zardari’s political career rests on cooperation with Nawaz. Those who propose otherwise are fooling themselves or Zardari.

Update: 8/30 – Zardari’s not dropping out.  His covering candidate and sister, Feryal Talpur, withdrew her papers today.  His odds of winning the presidency are now much better, due to what I call a “Ramadan reprieve.”  But winning the elections is one thing and staying in office is another.  Zardari’s man in Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, has been flexing his muscles lately.  His cable television provider service, WorldCall, has pulled Aaj Television off the air during the broadcast of a program, Bolta Pakistan, which also earned the anger of Pervez Musharraf.  Taseer, media magnate and governor of Punjab, was accused by Ahsan Iqbal  of the PML-N of trying to depose the latter’s government in Punjab.  Zardari’s choosing to play hardball is dangerous; without public support, he’ll have to resort to less conventional or legitimate options, and he will find himself in the same position as Pervez Musharraf–and without the backing of Pakistan’s Army.

Asif Zardari Mentally Ill?

The Financial Times reports that Asif Ali Zardari “was suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year, according to court documents filed by his doctors.”

The documents claim that Zardari “was diagnosed with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years.”

A New York psychologist said that Zardari “was unable to remember the birthdays of his wife and children, was persistently apprehensive and had thought about suicide.”

If true, the reports are sad as they would indicate that Zardari experienced great trauma in prison.  More importantly, they are also dangerous as Zardari, if elected president today, would hold a fairly powerful position, which includes chairmanship of Pakistan’s National (nuclear) Command Authority.

But below most of the juicy details, the article states that Zardari’s lawyers used “the medical diagnoses to argue successfully for the postponement of a now-defunct English High Court case in which Pakistan’s government was suing him over alleged corruption.”

In other words, this could be a case of Zardari’s lies coming back to haunt him.  It’s plausible that he concocted psychiatric reports of trauma and mental illness to prevent himself from having to come before a UK court.  A year and a half ago, he was battling corruption charges in multiple countries.  Little did he know that by today, his wife would be dead, he’d be the leading candidate for Pakistan’s presidency, and all his corruption cases would be dropped (the Swiss just closed their last case yesterday).  So the story (an insanity plea of sorts, but not quite) was worth it then.  Let’s see how it impacts him now.

Signed Copy of Sharif-Zardari Agreement to Restore Judges

Ok, it’s not the Qur’an or Hadith, but it starts with God’s Name and ends with the signatures of Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.

Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif agreement to restore judges as per Murree Accord.

Zal is Asif’s Pal

“Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to the United Nations, is facing angry questions from other senior Bush administration officials over what they describe as unauthorized contacts with Asif Ali Zardari, a contender to succeed Pervez Musharraf as president of Pakistan…

Another Warning from the Grave

PML-N Leaves Coalition, Joins Opposition; Proposes Own Presidential Candidate

PML-N Leader Nawaz Sharif has announced that his party will be leaving the governing coalition completely and will sit in the opposition.  He made this statement in a press conference that is occuring as I write.  The PML-N will also put forward the name of Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, a judge who retired when Pervez Musharraf took over and requested that he take an oath on a provisional constitution, for the presidential elections.

The PML-N seems to have had no other choice.  It made agreements with the PPP one day, only for that party’s leader, Asif Zardari, to state the next day that the pact had no value.

But Pakistan’s polity is heading for a left-right split and this is dangerous.  Pakistan’s parties will be split along the lines of pro-Zardari and anti-Zardari, pro-war on terror and anti-war on terror, pro-Iftikhar Chaudhry and anti-Iftikhar Chaudhry.  Sound familiar?  Zardari and his PPP have effectively taken the place of Musharraf and the PML-Q.  His presidency is unlikely to last long and his party could take major blows from his failed power grab.  After all, the party’s formal chairman is 19 years old.

The polarization of Pakistan’s polity is an affront to the mandate of the February 18th elections.  Pakistanis voted for change.  They made clear their desire for Pakistan’s two major parties to join together at the center.  They made clear that they wanted a new politics, not the games of the past.  Instead, they have received recycled, yet unrehabilitated characters from the past.

Zardari overcame his character deficit with magmamity and prudence in the months after his wife’s death.  Yet he has returned to his old self, which Pakistanis were never fond of.

About deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry: it is strange how so many powerful Pakistanis fear one good judge.  It is a testament to how much political and financial power are contingent upon a state of lawlessness and graft.  It is also strange that the rule of law movement is being opposed so vigorously when Baitullah Mehsud has accelerated his plans to establish his own judicial system across the tribal areas.  In a sense, Pakistanis face a choice between Iftikhar Chaudhry and Baitullah Mehsud.  Eliminating the former is a vote for the latter.

Finally, the PML-N’s control over Punjab is not in danger by it leaving the government at the center.  It’s one vote short of a majority in the Punjab Assembly and there are plenty of PML-Q defectors and independents willing to join its ranks.  But let’s see how the PML-N performs as in the opposition.  It does not appear that it will adopt a policy of mindless antagonism as it and the PPP did in the past.  But that depends a lot on the PPP’s behavior, and the events of recent months are not encouraging.

Joe Biden Obama’s VP Nominee? Implications for U.S.-Pakistan Relations

The Democratic National Convention is less than a week away and that means Barack Obama will probably announce his running mate by this weekend.

The talking heads in Washington presently favor Joe Biden, though there are other heavily mentioned alternatives as well as the chance of a surprise pick.

But, if Biden is selected, the implications for U.S.-Pakistan would be many.  I’ll discuss four — two on the presidential campaign and two if Obama & Biden win in November.

AN OBAMA-BIDEN TICKET

One, an Obama-Biden ticket would bring together two individuals with a strong track record of supporting democracy and development in Pakistan. Both Obama and Biden have consistently argued that Pakistan’s democratization and cooperation in the war on terror are interconnected.  The responses of both Obama and Biden to Benazir Bhutto’s assassination reflected this belief.  In contrast, John McCain framed her death in the context of a battle between “moderates” and proponents of “violent Islamic extremism.” Biden has also proposed a massive increase in non-military assistance to Pakistan, which has been well-received there.

Two, the selection of Biden puts added pressure on McCain to re-vamp his Pakistan policy.  McCain’s Pakistan policy, at this point, is anchorless and hollow.  He hedged his bets on Pervez Musharraf, who is now discredited and out of the scene. Obama and Biden, in contrast, have come out hard on Musharraf for quite some time; they look prescient from Musharraf’s downfall.  In fact, Obama criticized McCain today for supporting Musharraf, stating that his opponent “spent years backing a dictator in Pakistan who failed to serve the interests of his own people.”

In this sense, Obama’s advantage on Pakistan (and Afghanistan) mirrors McCain’s on Iraq.  The latter’s gamble on the surge has paid out; Obama has had to re-adjust and gingerly embrace the surge’s fruits.  One should expect the McCain campaign to make adjustments to a post-Musharraf Pakistan.  McCain, afterall, had to adopt the Obama proposal to increase U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

But it’s unclear as to how far he will embrace the democratic set-up in Pakistan.  At this point, the likelihood is low — despite the fact that McCain has called for a “League of Democracies.” McCain’s response to Musharraf’s resignation, like his previous statements, emphasizes “stability” and a battle against “violent Islamic extremism.”

Stability, however, requires anchors and Pakistan’s cooperation in war requires local allies; McCain is unclear as to who those individuals/institutions are.  It’s a vulnerability for McCain that will be utilized in the presidential (and vice-presidential) debates.  Expect Biden to bring up his Pakistan plan a lot.  And I imagine McCain’s rejoinders to Obama would accuse the latter of threatening to violate the sovereignty of an ally.  But, as I have written earlier, Obama’s threats are consistent with the Bush administration’s policy.  The debate is, therefore, superficial.

AN OBAMA-BIDEN ADMINISTRATION

An Obama-Biden administration would, one, likely mean that the vice president’s office will play an active, if not dominant, role in shaping U.S. policy toward Pakistan. This would represent some continuity with the Bush-Cheney administration, in which the vice president has been the major force shaping Washington’s relations with Islamabad.  Like Cheney, a Vice President Biden could be the go-to-guy when it comes to Pakistan.

But Biden lacks the unique (and disturbing) personalities traits of Cheney and will likely be more transparent in his dealings. Still, intra-administration turf wars are likely to come about.  They exist are natural to such entities.  Presently, there are tensions between the vice president’s office and the State Department on Pakistan.  While Biden would likely carve out elements of U.S. foreign policy as his own niche/turf (and some of his present Senatorial staffers might prove important), he would have to share space with other foreign policy influencers in the administration, who will likely include Susan Rice and Bruce Riedel.  Moreover, Obama’s intelligence and personality lend toward a hands on style of governance. So you won’t find the president hiding in the corner while Mommy and Daddy fight.

Two, Biden, as vice president can provide leverage to have the Biden-Lugar bill passed in the Congress next year.  The bill, mentioned above, calls for tripling non-military assistance to Pakistan.  Both Obama and Biden have called for building comprehensive, long-term ties with Pakistan  — a “Pakistan policy” as opposed to a “Musharraf policy.”  The passage of such a bill would mark an early foreign policy achievement for the young administration — though there is a chance it could be conditionalized to the extent that it would be useless.

DISCLAIMER

Forecasting the next administration’s policy toward Pakistan is of questionable utility.  Pakistan’s present volatility suggests that U.S.-Pakistan relations could be more shaped by the ground realities in Pakistan than in the United States.  When campaign promises and track records meet present exigencies and the burden of responsibility, the latter two take precedence.

Musheer – Habib Jalib (GEO Video)

Vocals: Shahram Azhar
Original Video

معزول شہنشاہ – علامہ اقبال

معزول شہنشاہ

ہو مبارک اس شہنشاہ نکو فرجام کو
جس کي قرباني سے اسرار ملوکيت ہيں فاش
‘شاہ’ ہے برطانوي مندر ميں اک مٹي کا بت
جس کو کر سکتے ہيں، جب چاہيں پجاري پاش پاش
ہے يہ مشک آميز افيوں ہم غلاموں کے ليے
ساحر انگليس! مارا خواجہ ديگر تراش

Editor:

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

For Media and Consulting Inquiries:
E-mail // Tel: +1(202) 713-5897

On Twitter:
@PakistanPolicy

On the Radio:
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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