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Zardari in the Crosshairs

My latest external publication is an article on ForeignPolicy.com that discusses the plight of President Asif Ali Zardari. An excerpt is at the end of this post.

I have been blogging less frequently in the past two months, but you can catch me regularly on the John Batchelor Show, Saturdays at 9:30PM EST (770AM-NY, WABCradio.com, and XM , XM Radio Channel 158).

You can also follow me on Twitter.

Here’s an excerpt of my FP article:

“Afghanistan’s election crisis has temporarily abated, but Pakistan could soon face a volatile political transition of its own. President Asif Ali Zardari is under ever-increasing pressure to resign. His influence and power are dwindling and will likely continue to diminish in the coming months. By this spring, the Zardari presidency could meet its end….”

Click here to read more

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The Line of Control

On Monday, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani visited Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield. It was his second publicized visit to the line of control since assuming leadership of Pakistan’s army.

KAYANI: A “NATIONAL CONSENSUS” ON KASHMIR

Both visits occurred after controversial statements from President Asif Ali Zardari regarding the Kashmir conflict.  On both occasions, Gen. Kayani asserted the existence of a “national consensus” in Pakistan on Kashmir.

The national consensus on Kashmir Gen. Kayani refers to can be seen as a euphemism for the military-intelligence establishment’s viewpoint.  But this also converges with a broad spectrum of public opinion in Pakistan.

There is strong public support in Pakistan for a just resolution to the 61 year conflict over the disputed region.  Pakistanis share historic, cultural, and blood linkages with the people of Kashmir, particularly with those in the currently restive valley.

Strategically, water, road, and trade linkages with Kashmir are essential to Pakistan’s future.  Their importance will increase radically in the coming decades when climate change and resource scarcity are expected to hit South Asia hard. Kashmir is the source of all of the region’s major waterways.

In recent years, Pakistanis have demonstrated their ability to be pragmatic and flexible regarding the Kashmir dispute.  But their concessions were not reciprocated by the Indians, who never fail to miss an opportunity to resolve the conflict.

India has had the luxury to defer final status discussions — only until recently.  Kashmir has gained little traction as an international issue.  But this is of little concern to the Muslim Kashmiris.  In their massive rallies — protesters number in the hundreds of thousands — they have made their voice clear.  They have asked for azaadi or freedom.   While some protesters have called for independence, others have called for a union with Pakistan.  Regardless, their desire to be free of India is clear.  Meanwhile, the rise of Hindu chauvinism in India has moved India’s center to the right and pushed Indians further away from compromise with Muslim Kashmiris.  Last month, a leading right wing Times of India columnist called for the permanent settling of Indian troops in Kashmir, tilting the demographic balance.  Conversely, many leading Indian commentators have called for letting the Kashmir valley go.  This is the cost of taking Musharraf for granted.

THE LIMITS OF COMPROMISE

That, combined with what is seen as the strategic encirclement of Pakistan, has made Pakistanis realize that former President Pervez Musharraf made one concession too many in respect to core security issues.  His compromises, in the eyes of the Pakistani public, have yielded little of permanent value.  Whatever benefits they produced are quickly vanishing after his departure.

Neither the Pakistani public nor its security establishment will accept compromise on Kashmir in a context of weakness.  Gen. Kayani has spoken of “peace through strength.”

TARGETING ISI WILL BACKFIRE ON ZARDARI

In this context, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher’s calls for the “reform” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence will hit a brick wall.  The civilian government is, in effect, being thrown at this wall, i.e. the army, and will bear the direct consequences of such action.  This is something Zardari must consider out of both self and national interest.

Moreover, the idea of reform presupposes the existence of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in this realm.  Intelligence agencies by nature operate in an amoral universe.  They are tasked with doing the government’s dirty work clandestinely and non-conventionally.  Their sole task is to serve the national interest, unconstrained not by conventional bounds but simply by capability and risk.  Criticizing one agency on moral grounds makes little sense — they all play the same game by the same (lack of) rules.  There is not a conflict of morals, but of interests.  These can only be dealt with by clandestine competition or dialogue and compromise at a conventional level.  The latter is the more prudent path.

The first target of ISI “reform” would seemingly be the organization’s director general, Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj.  Indeed, some in Washington are pressing for civilian control of the ISI.  This is a recipe for disaster.  Zardari’s earlier attempt to bring the ISI under civilian control failed.  After another attempt, he’ll find himself sitting out on the pavement outside of the presidential palace.  Zardari lacks the legitimacy and power with which to assert himself over the military.  While the Pakistani public supports the cessation of the ISI’s political role, there is no support for tying the organization’s hands in other matters.  If pressed by Zardari, Gen. Kayani would be forced to enter the political realm, against his will, because of civilian excess.  Zardari should be wiser and focus on his self-proclaimed mandate of roti (bread), kapra (clothing), and makan (a home).

And so, Gen. Kayani is delineating the parameters of acceptable discourse on Kashmir, and at a broader level, Pakistan’s national security issues. Gen. Kayani has given the civilians free reign over non-security matters.  He has, however, drawn a line in the sand.  The civilians cannot pass the line of control into his own domain.  Given Zardari’s consolidation of power and the absence of checks and balances upon him, a foolish press against the military would compel that institution to intervene, making his presidency the shortest in Pakistan’s history.

FYI: Zardari’s visit to Britain — described in the Pakistani press as a “summoning” — resulted in the indefinite postponement of his scheduled visit to China, which is seen as Pakistan’s staunchest ally.  Pakistani rightists and even those in the center believe that Zardari’s closest advisors are trying to push Pakistan away from China.  Interestingly, Gen. Kayani will embark on a 5-day visit of China next week.  The smoking man speaks.

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Army Surgeon General Killed in Rawalpindi Suicide Blast

The cease fire is apparently over. Earlier today, a suicide bomber attacked the vehicle of Lt. Gen. Mushtaq Ahmad Baig, the surgeon general of the Pakistani Army, killing him and eight others–including five civilians. There is no reason to believe he was personally targeted by the bomber. Inter-Services Public Relations spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said that the attacker, disguised as a beggar, was “just waiting for a senior army officer” and detonated himself at a traffic signal “when he saw a staff car with the signature of a senior officer.”

Lt. Gen. Baig headed the Army Medical Corps and likely lacked the security detail provisioned to officers of similar rank within the army’s mainstream. He was apparently traveling in a black Toyota Corolla with a Pakistan Army license plate (see left). Previous attacks on the military in Rawalpindi have focused on softer, more vulnerable targets, such as employee buses. As I have written earlier, the army needs to enact more comprehensive security measures. This is essential toward renewing morale within the institution and denying the militants tactical victories.

Testimonials from those who knew the late Lt. Gen Baig center on his humility, religious piety, and professional excellence as a physician.

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Thursday Round-Up: National Reconciliation; Splitting the Taliban; Army Defends Atta; Aitzaz’s Back

Pakistan continues along a mixed, though largely negative trajectory as the spate of urban suicide bombing continues and insurgents make bold moves in South Waziristan, while the army strengthens its control over Swat and leaders flinch toward national reconciliation. The army’s immediate workload increases, but Gen. Ashfaq Kayani takes clear steps to depoliticize the institution. In both Pakistan and Afghanistan, efforts toward dividing and containing the Taliban continue. Election campaigning proceeds, though in a less spirited fashion prior to Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

Terrorist Strikes Shi’a Gathering in Peshawar
A teenage suicide bomber clad in black struck an imambargah, a site for ritualistic mourning for Shi’a Muslims, in Peshawar today, the seventh day of the month of Muharram. This month is significant for all Muslims, but it holds a particular importance for the Shi’a. Their commemoration crescendos on the tenth day, Ash’ura, as they mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Ash’ura falls on Sunday; the army, local police, and private mosque security squads are under high alert. However, that will not preclude attacks such as today’s from occurring. The bomber that struck the imambargah today detonated his device after being stopped by police, killing ten individuals. Targeting the Shi’a is a major point of convergence for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and various southern Punjabi Sunni militant groups.

Swat and Getting Swatted
Pakistan’s army continues to make gains in Swat, a settled, scenic valley in the North-West Frontier Province. According to Director General Military Operations Maj. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Operation Rah-e Haq has been successfully completed. The army, he says, established its hold over the area in late December, killing or apprehending major militants associated with Maulana Fazlullah, who remains holed up in a mountainous area packed in by recent heavy snowfall. It is now making steps toward issuing a compensation and development package for the area and has replaced Fazlullah’s FM radio station with several of its own. The speed and effectiveness of the government’s resettlement of internally displaced people and restoring the civil administration and political parties remains significant. Half-hearted measures will only result in local discontent that Fazlullah or a subsequent variant can feed off of.

In a marked contrast to the government’s military success in Swat, it continues to struggle in South Waziristan. This week, two forts were taken over by insurgents, who had little trouble combating the undertrained and ill-equipped paramilitary Frontier Corps. Their Wednesday night attack on a fort, which they held and then withdrew from, was made by a group of 200-1,000 men, overwhelming the 40 FC troops stationed there.

This large scale attack by neo-Taliban affiliated with Baitullah Mehsud is the first of its kind as guerrilla tactics are normally used. If this marks a strategic shift for Mehsud, it is both an alarming development for Pakistan’s military as well as a potential source of opportunity. Its success in Swat was partially precipitated by the overstretching of Maulana Fazlullah’s forces, though Fazlullah’s group is vastly smaller and less sophisticated and armed than Mehsud’s. And so if Mehsud’s forces press toward Pakistani military installations in large numbers, they provide an opportunity to be eliminated in larger numbers of them in a short amount of time with an aerial assault. That is why Mehsud group did not hold on to the fort in Wednesday night’s attack.

U.S. Special Forces’ counterinsurgency training of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps accelerates this year, but there’s no indication that any substantive progress will be achieved before the spring. In the interim, Pakistan could benefit by goading Mehsud into adopting more conventional and exposing tactics.

Tea with the Taliban
As the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan sat and drank chai with former Taliban leader and now Musa Qala governor Abdul Salaam, the strategy of dividing and containing (or incorporating) the Taliban continues in Pakistan. The federal government is exploiting the traditional and on-going rivalries between the Ahmedzai Wazirs and the Mehsuds in Southern Waziristan. It could be imposing a blockade of sorts on the Mehsuds, to the advantage of the Ahmedzais. Curbing the flow of drugs and other illicit contrabands will weaken the Mehsuds, but it’s unclear as to whether the Pakistani military is effectively declaring war on the Mehsud tribe or whether it’s trying to make them see Baitullah Mehsud as a source of their problems.

Eurotrip: The National Reconciliation Tour
On Saturday, Muslim League-Nawaz President Shahbaz Sharif met in Islamabad with Niaz Ahmed, a retired military officer who serves as an intermediary between the Sharif brothers and Pervez Musharraf. The octogenarian retired brigadier was an army instructor to Pervez Musharraf and is well-respected by the Sharif brothers due to past favors. He reportedly presented Shahbaz, the younger Sharif, with an offer straight from Musharraf to take part in a national unity government before the elections and have a considerable role thereafter. The Sharifs were also requested to tone down their criticism of Musharraf.

Shahbaz reportedly replied that he’d have to have discuss any offer with his elder brother, Nawaz, who was nearby in the resort town of Murree. After being caught leaving Ahmed’s Islamabad home by spunky Pakistani journalists, Shahbaz described his meeting with Ahmed as a “courtesy call.” Coincidentally, he also met the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan, Ali Awadh Asseri. The Saudis have a keen interest in seeing the return of the Sharifs to power and have for years played a role in managing Sharif-Musharraf relations.

And in yet another coincidence, Shahbaz Sharif, Pervez Musharraf, and Niaz Ahmed will all be in London this Friday. Shahbaz claims he’s going to London for medical treatment, but there’s no sign his hair plugs need re-alignment.

As of now, Nawaz Sharif, who is seen by some as less compromising than his brother, has continued his call for a national unity government without Pervez Musharraf. But he has called for a re-scheduling of elections so that new election commission could be formed, headed by deposed Supreme Court Justice Rana Baghwandas, enabling the participation of Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e Insaaf and the Jamaat-e Islami. The PPP strongly rejected Sharif’s proposal.

The elections delay serves the interest of all parties save the PPP, which will lose the sympathy vote as we get further away from Benazir Bhutto’s death. This brings up some significant questions in regard to the national reconciliation talk.

Is it an attempt by Musharraf to divide and control the opposition? Until now, the PML-N has been following the lead of the PPP. Is that changing? Does the PML-N share an interest with Musharraf in checking the PPP, particularly in Punjab? We’ll probably get a good sense this weekend as to the status of the Sharif-Musharraf talks.

Where’s the PPP in all this? Earlier this week, there was a rumored meeting between Musharraf and Asif Zardari, which the PPP denied. But Amin Fahim, the PPP vice chairman, likely met Musharraf around a week ago. PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that “all options are open” in regard to cooperation with Musharraf after the elections.

And what about the PML-Q? Earlier this week, Pervaiz Elahi, always on the attack, said that “all those parties after smelling their defeat in the upcoming general elections are giving suggestions for formation of the national government which has no constitutional, ethical and democratic reasons.” But then Chaudhry Shujaat, his cousin, stated yesterday that his party will form a national unity government after the elections and will invite the PPP and PML-N.

Pakistan will likely see some form of a national unity government. But it remains to be seen as to whether it will be formed before or after the elections, with or without Pervez Musharraf, and all the parties, including the PML-Q.

Kayani’s De-Politicization of the Army
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani issued an order prohibiting army officers from meeting with politicians. When the directive was first reported, it was unclear as to whether Pervez Musharraf, now a civilian president, was included in the category of politicians. After all, he still lives in the military’s headquarters. Retired Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, a former chief of army staff, tells the Daily Times that meeting with Musharraf is also prohibited, but there was no confirmation from government sources. New Inter-Services Public Relations spokesperson Athar Abbas also distanced the army from Musharraf’s claim that Benazir Bhutto was not popular with the Pakistani army.

But Army Has More Duties
While the army might be doing less politicking, its burden has now increased. It has now been tasked with defense of the country’s increasingly scarce wheat supplies. This is on top of its responsibilities in fighting insurgencies, defending Pakistan’s borders, and providing security for some of Pakistan’s major cities after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Today, Gen. Kayani met with junior commissioned and non-commissioned army officers. He emphasized his two major themes of improving the army’s “professional excellence” as the standard of living for all of those in its ranks. But importantly, he emphasized that the army’s primary duty is to defend the country’s borders.

Aitzaz Ahsan’s Return to the PPP
The spirit of reconciliation is alive. Asif Zardari will reportedly promote Aitzaz Ahsan to People’s Party vice chairman. This is a move to push the PPP in Punjab. As I noted earlier, Zardari will be moving to Lahore to build up the party there. But this also marks a challenge to the PML-N and PML-Q, whose support base is almost exclusively in that province.  Aitzaz was paid a visit by Attorney General Malik Qayyum, who reportedly offered an end to his house arrest if he hushed up about the judges issue.

The Travails of Maulana Diesel
It hasn’t been a good week or so for Maulana Fazlur Rahman. He’s been staying indoors lately as a result of the reported assassination threats made against him. His party, the JUI-F, is facing some turbulence; it recently expelled 18 party members. Fazl tells BBC Urdu that a senior Punjab official replied to his request for security by stating, “No money, no security.”

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The Pakistani Army Returns to Dhaka

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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.

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Tuesday Wrap-Up: Imran gets IJT’d; Battle of the Bhuttos;

  • Musharraf: Uniform off by end of month; doesn’t budge on emergency rule (ER)
  • White House: Free and fair elections not possible under ER; Negroponte arrives on Friday
  • Army support of Musharraf appears to remain strong
  • Swatting Swat: Full-scale army-led operations in effect; Internally-displaced persons in the thousands
  • Caretaker prime minister to be appointed on Thursday; Muhammad Mian Soomro leads the pack:
    • If Soomro is chosen, the impact on presidential succession and dissolution of parliament is unclear. Senate chairman (was Soomro) is in line to succeed Musharraf should he vacate the presidency, with National Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain next in line. It appears both Senate chairman and NA speaker remain in office until new parliament convenes.
  • Musharraf’s “Mission Accomplished”: The National Assembly completed its term for the first time in Pakistan’s history
  • Operation Petty Stakes: The Islami Jamiat-e Tulaba (IJT), student wing of the Jamaat-e Islami (JI), seized Imran Khan during his rally at Punjab University. They detained him in a campus building and handed him over to police. Khan might be tried on anti-terror charges.
    • Khan has been allied with JI for some time. JI leadership condemned the IJT’s moves. A spokesperson said, “It seems like our student supporters reacted this way because of an ego issue…They didn’t want Imran to steal their limelight. We condemn this action.” However, three points need to be considered:
      1. The JI is reportedly working with the PML-Q on seat adjustment for the upcoming elections.
      2. Imran Khan is effectively an anti-establishment politician and, regardless of their differences, the major political parties are potentially threatened by his rise.
      3. The IJT is somewhat autonomous from the JI. Along with the student wing of the MQM, it has terrorized Pakistani university campuses for years. Though their actions against Khan could simply be defense of what they see as their turf, it is also probable that they could have at the behest of the intelligence services with or without the consent of the JI leadership.
  • Battle of the Bhuttos: Benazir Bhutto sets a record for op-eds published while under house arrest; Fatima Bhutto, Benazir’s niece, tells the West that her aunt isn’t all that she seems
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Paradoxes and Political Intrigue Persist in Pakistan

Developments in Pakistan in recent days further the view for both insiders and outsiders that the country is a perplexing bowl of contradictions and political intrigue.

KSE RISES
The Karachi Stock Exchange closed at all-time highs on Monday and Tuesday. Investor confidence boosted due to Pervez Musharraf’s re-election as president (pending the validation of his candidacy), which they associate with future political stability and continuity of pro-growth, liberal economic policies. Their sentiments might be valid in the mid-term, but the next three months, at the very least, will be a roller coaster period for the country—and Pakistan’s securities markets will likely not be as immune to the volatility as they have been before.

MUSHARRAF ESCAPES DANGER ONCE AGAIN
On the same day as the market rally, a helicopter escorting Musharraf to Kashmir crashed, killing four individuals. This was also the first day of work for Musharraf’s slated army successor, Ashfaq Kiyani, as vice chief of army staff. Though the president was never in any danger and there is no sign of foul play, the context eerily resembles the assassination of Zia-ul-Haq in 1988. The accident is a keen reminder that a single event of this sort can have a defining impact, but as with Zia’s demise, need not necessarily result in systemic change.

WAZIRISTAN ON FIRE
While investors are buoyant down south in Karachi, the country’s northwest has witnessed some of its most severe fighting between Pakistan’s army and local-foreign insurgents. According to the army, 45 troops and 150 insurgents have been killed in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. There have also been significant civilian casualties, with non-combatants fleeing the area. The government has been bombarding insurgents from the air with helicopter gunships and jets. The heightened use of air power markedly differs from the government’s previous ground-oriented strategy, which sought to avoid so-called collateral damage and earning further disfavor of locals. It suggests any number of the following:

  • the army has decided its strong avoidance of civilian casualties has been too costly;
  • patience on its side is wearing thin;
  • there is significant external pressure on Islamabad to bring in decisive results before the winter;
  • or a strategic and/or political (via Bhutto deal) window of opportunity has emerged to enable a forceful confrontation of militants.

Perhaps the army has opted for a Balochistan-like strategy, in which it would deliver strong, decisive blows to the insurgency (costing many innocent civilian lives) and follow up with a heavy infusion of development funds. Large scale, yet short-term violence would be complemented by a vast improvement in quality of life and incorporation/subsidization of local elites. In FATA, these funds would largely come from the 5-year $750 million US aid package and opportunities from its duty-free economic opportunity zone program, and would trickle down to the locals via notables with newly padded pockets.

FAZLUR RAHMAN AND THE FRACTURING OF THE MMA
A critical player in the political solution in FATA will be Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who, despite being in the political “opposition,” has proved to be almost as loyal to Musharraf as the Chaudhries. Fazlur Rahman is epitome of the “siyasi ulema” (political Islamic scholars) Abdur Rashid Ghazi lambasted on national television minutes before his demise in the Lal Masjid compound. The JUI-F should play a significant role in liaisoning between FATA notables and insurgents and the federal government/military. Its role in bringing a death blow to the MMA and APDM will not go unrewarded. The pending dissolution of the NWFP assembly will result in fresh provincial elections that might see MMA factions running on their own tickets, and a final tally that places the JUI-F in a stronger individual provincial position than before.

NATIONAL RECONCILIATION OR POLITICAL GIMMICK?
Recent comments by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and to a lesser extent Shaukat Aziz, have sought to cast doubt on the government’s sincerity in its deal with Benazir Bhutto and her People’s Party. Aziz boasted of having divided and outsmarted the opposition, which is true, and Shujaat bluntly stated that the government has no intention of following through on its promises to Bhutto — and that it it will, in fact, get political cover from the Supreme Court ruling the National Reconciliation Ordinance invalid.

Shujaat’s comments should be taken with a grain (or bucket) of salt. One, Washington — Musharraf’s greatest benefactor — strongly wants the deal to go through fully. Two, Shujaat stands to lose most from the Bhutto-Musharraf deal. Musharraf’s presidency is essentially set (barring a Supreme Court rejection of his candidacy), but Shujaat’s party has to face off against Bhutto’s in the general elections. Images of him and his cousin appear frequently on Pakistani television screens, with a massive wave of advertisements on private channels (source of funding unclear) hailing the achievements of the governments of Musharraf (“Sub se pahlay Pakistan”) and Pervez Ellahi (“Para likha Punjab”). The Chaudhries may have reluctantly consented to a Bhutto-Musharraf deal, but they will show some feistiness to retain their dominance over Punjab and share of federal power.

The rejection of Shujaat’s statements by a Musharraf spokesperson suggests that the president will have to play a fine balancing act between PML-Q partisan and partner of Benazir. It’s the same kind of lack of partiality the Bush administration has sought to display in recent days vis-a-vis Pakistan (i.e. support for the country, not just one man–Musharraf). Should Musharraf alienate his PML-Q base, one might witness the party distancing itself from Musharraf and veering toward some sort of rapprochement, if not re-consolidation, with the PML-N.

NAWAZ’S NOVEMBER SURPRISE?
The PML-N offers little in political value without the presence of at least one Sharif brother in Pakistan. As a result, the Musharraf government was keen on keeping the former prime minister out of the country prior to his re-election. Since then, they have expressed resistance to his return prior to general-elections — though it is unclear as to whether this is a reflection of the government’s needs or the wishes of the Bhutto camp.

Nawaz is reportedly to return to London after Eid. If proven to be true, it will indicate that Sharif and family were informed of this upon return to Saudi, as Kulsoom Nawaz made such claims early at that point. Also it would prove to partially explain the Sharif family’s relative quietness in the past few weeks. From London, the Sharif brothers could return to Pakistan between November and post-elections in January. Reports suggest family members will trickle into Pakistan individually. Nawaz’s son Hassan has said his father will return to Pakistan between November 15 and 30. A pre-election return is more likely for Shahbaz Sharif. Odds of a Nawaz return pre-elections would multiply if he got another Supreme Court ruling in his favor. If Nawaz returns after the general elections, he could shake things up if discontent in the PML-Q and with others is high. Alternatively, his return could come after the candles have been blow out and the cake has been eaten.

POWER DISTRIBUTION POST-GENERAL ELECTIONS
Najam Sethi has stated that the Bhutto-Musharraf understanding will likely produce a PPP government (and Musharraf presidency) at the center, a PML-Q controlled Punjab with a significant PPP presence, a PPP-PML coalition government in NWFP and Balochistan, and a PPP-MQM coalition government in Sindh.

I think Sethi errs in only noting three political mouths (other than his own) Musharraf has to feed. There’s a four rewardee, the JUI-F. Fazlur Rahman’s deeds on behalf of Musharraf in recent weeks, as well as in the past four years, cannot simply be wishful lobbying. JUI-F will likely play an important role in addressing issues of militancy in NWFP, Balochistan, and FATA. Washington probably recognizes and supports this. Moreover, it makes little sense for JUI-F to have enabled Musharraf’s re-election under the current parliament and the fracture of its political alliance only to be punished with a loss of provincial power.

The JUI-F will likely be a part of the NWFP government at least for the same reasons the MQM will share power with the PPP in Sindh. Both were used to displace the previous ruling party, which necessitates a ‘soft landing’ for them — especially since they’re still useful. The PPP’s Sindh compromise is a concession for power at the national level, though its relations with the MQM will have its share of challenges. Sethi doesn’t seem to give much thought to a PML-Q presence at the national level. Mushahid Hussain and others with the party have proposed the idea of a national unity government. While this remains possible, strong animosities between PML-Q stalwarts and the PPP, combined with Benazir Bhutto’s compromises vis-a-vis Musharraf, will likely prohibit her from entertaining such an idea. Why would she accept a prime ministership already diluted by the troika?

CARETAKER GOVERNMENT
The general elections will be held under the rule of a caretaker government. At this point, there is only pure speculation as to who will be the interim prime minister. Candidates include: Jehangir Karamat, Ishrat Hussain, and Hamid Nasir Chattha. Tariq Aziz and Shujaat Hussain have been tasked with arranging for the interim set-up, but clearly Benazir will have significant input in these matters as they will factor significantly in the outcome of the elections (i.e. free and/or favorable).

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CONFIRMED: Ashfaq Kiyani New VCOAS; Tariq Majeed new CJCS

Aaj TV has just reported that Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani (alt spellings: Ashfaq Kayani and Ashfaq Kiani) has been promoted to four-star general and appointed as the vice chief of army staff (VCOAS). This paves the way for his succession of Gen. Pervez Musharraf as chief of army staff when the latter retires from the army in the coming weeks. Lt. Gen. Tariq Majeed has also been promoted to four-star general and will become the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff (CJCS).

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Benazir Bhutto on IAEA access to A.Q. Khan



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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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