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Musharraf Ally Attacked at Lawyers Rally: Work of Provocateurs or an (Un)civil Society?

Sher Afgan Niazi, a minister in the previous government and member of the Musharraf-allied Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), was attacked at a lawyers movement rally this evening in Lahore. After being assaulted, the tires of the ambulance sent to take him away were punctured and its keys were stolen.

Though the lawyers movement has always been a bit rowdy, they have been the victims of state violence. The impression given by this event is that they have now become perpetrators of violence.

Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), desperately tried to stop the beating of Niazi. He made his way through the mob to reach Niazi and even climbed on to the ambulance to call on those in the rally to cease their attacks. His call was not heeded. After exhausting all efforts, Ahsan then announced his resignation as president of the SCBA.

In my opinion, there is a high likelihood that the violence was perpetrated by provocateurs not associated with the lawyers movement. Why?

One, video images of the rally show an unusually high presence of plain-clothed individuals, not the black suit lawyers that have become a symbol of the lawyers movement. One of the most aggressive attackers was a plain-clothed man who was hitting Afgan with a shoe. Aitzaz Ahsan has said that upwards of 60% of those in the crowd were not lawyers (he asked the lawyers to raise their hands), and said these individuals were the most violent.

Two, the incident occurs in the midst of a campaign to discredit Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the lawyers movement. [Note, for example, how Justice Iftikhar's meeting meeting with Asif Zardari was immediately spinned in the media to taint him as "political." But not too long after that, the PPP's Ahmed Mukhtar defended Musharraf as "cashable." If seems as if Justice Iftikhar's credibility can be tarnished by as little as a speeding ticket, while Musharraf can go off scot-free, as long as he remains 'useful'.]

At the very least, the violence today is extremely convenient for those who seek the movement’s downfall. Images of Niazi being pushed and pulled in various directions are fodder for sensationalists in Pakistan’s media. Television producers bring out their favorite red pen to mark a circle around Niazi as he’s inhumanely tossed like a volleyball. The violence is then said to be associated with the lawyers movement and even with democracy.

So, what needs to be done?

One, senior leaders of the lawyers movement — Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir Malik, and others — should meet with Sher Afgan tomorrow. They should apologize for the violence inflicted against him, yet make it clear that the lawyers movement’s rank and file was not behind the incident. They should directly engage, with concrete evidence, the question of whether outside provocateurs were behind the attack on Afgan.

Two, the lawyers movement should preserve its leadership, cohesiveness, and overall objectives. The likely goal of the violence, if it was done by provocateurs, was to get the lawyers movement to give up on its goal to restore the deposed judges, particularly Justice Iftikhar, deposed by Pervez Musharraf in November. The new government has 21 days left to bring the judges back, according to the Murree Accord.

Three, the lawyers movement should revamp its public presence. Lawyers should behave like lawyers. Their rallies need to be more tame. Though it is likely that authentic lawyers movement members were not behind tonight’s violence, the previous aggressiveness of the lawyers movement makes the idea that the lawyers are responsible for today’s violence, in the eyes of the general public, more believable. For example, the enthusiasm of Ahmed Ali Kurd is much appreciated, but his firebrand rhetoric is often excessive.

Finally, the movement needs to develop a strategy to push for broad-based judicial reform in Pakistan. Restoring the deposed judges is significant for Pakistan’s political development. It is in Pakistan’s national interest. But beyond the judges and the Supreme Court, there is the Pakistani majority that benefits little from the justice system. If wronged, the average Pakistani does not have any legal resort. And so, in order to maintain an independent bond with the people of Pakistan and continue much needed political reform, the lawyers movement should push for the rule of law and justice for the common man.

UPDATE – 3:40PM (New York): Take a look at the two photos above.  Both clearly show a plain-clothed young male on the right assaulting Sher Afgan.  Both lawyers in suits and plain-clothed people are also shielding Afgan.  They are clearly doing more work than the police (controlled by the pro-Musharraf interim provincial government), who Aitzaz Ahsan says were vastly short in number.

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Aitzaz Ahsan’s Call for a ‘Black Flag Week’

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Aitzaz asks America: Why are you still supporting Musharraf?

Supreme Court Bar Association President Aitzaz Ahsan is currently speaking at a lawyers gathering in Karachi. An impassioned Ahsan said the people of Pakistan have made their decision and Pervez Musharraf is near his exit. He asked the United States and other Western states why, despite this clear message, they continue to support Musharraf. Ahsan also said his movement supports strengthening parliament — a major stated goal of People’s Party Co-Chairman Asif Zardari — but argued that an independent judiciary is necessary to achieve this.

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Aitzaz Ahsan: Iftikhar Chaudhry is Pakistan’s Chief Justice

Senior People’s Party figure and lawyers’ movement leader Aitzaz Ahsan just completed a press conference. He said the restoration of the deposed judges, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, is the elections’ “unfinished business.” Chaudhry, said Ahsan, remains Pakistan’s Supreme Court chief justice. He vowed to hold a “long march” to Islamabad if the judges are not restored by March 9th.  The judges can be restored by an executive decree, said Ahsan.

Ahsan has made a concerted effort to paint the late Benazir Bhutto as equally supportive of the pre-November 3rd judiciary as he has been–despite the fact that she publicly asked him to decide between the PPP and Iftikhar Chaudhry. He did, however, state yesterday that the People’s Party could have fared better in the elections if it actively pursued the judiciary issue.
People’s Party Co-Chairman Asif Zardari has actively worked to bring Ahsan back into the PPP’s fold. It’s unclear as to whether his pursuit of the judicial cause–specifically the restoration of the deposed judges (Zardari only called for their release)–will occur parallel to, in clash with, or in harmony with his role in the People’s Party. Will Zardari call for the judges’ restoration too? He might be cornered into doing so as a result of the strong public calls from party member Aitzaz Ahsan and Nawaz Sharif of potential ruling coalition partner PML-N.

Finally, it should be noted that Ahsan dropped out of the elections to demonstrate his solidarity with the pro-judiciary cause. As a result, he has no parliamentary seat. Despite being part of the lead party in the future governing coalition, Ahsan will likely be active in the streets with his fellow lawyers. Will he have to make a choice against between the PPP and Iftikhar Chaudhry?

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Kal Aaj aur Kal — Aitzaz Ahsan

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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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After Bhutto: Who Will Lead the Pakistan People’s Party?

The murder of Benazir Bhutto has created a leadership vacuum within the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The populist, center-left party gained patrimonial colors after the execution of its founder, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1979.

Party leadership passed on to his wife, Nusrat. However, their daughter, Benazir, would soon rise to center stage, eclipsing–quite aggressively–her mother and brothers. Benazir was effectively at the party’s helm for the past two and a half decades, becoming at some point its chairperson for life. The party has no internal elections and Bhutto’s competitors were shut out.

Filling her shoes will be no easy task. Not only did Bhutto wield an almost absolute command over the People’s Party, but her persona–very much tied to her father’s–made many willing, if not desiring, to accept her complete stewardship.

To top it off, Bhutto has been lionized since her passing. News anchors on Pakistan’s private channels now refer to her as Shaheed Benazir Bhutto; she is now a martyr. Within hours of her passing, the news channels ceased to use the word ‘death’ and instead term her passing as shahadat, or martyrdom.

No potential successor shares the unique set of characteristics as Bhutto: the ‘royal’ name; popular appeal in Pakistan; political instinct; and deep contacts and friendships with leaders and influencers in the West. Most likely, Bhutto’s void will be filled by multiple individuals. The probable candidates are listed below in order of importance.

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Amin Fahim
As the vice chairman of the PPP, Amin Fahim is best positioned to assume leadership of the party. Fahim led the party in the National Assembly and was its presidential candidate in the faux polls held in October.

He is a feudal figure from Bhutto’s home province and political base of Sindh. Fahim has considerable name recognition nationally, but does not have the Bhutto name and the star power associated with it. His international connections are not strong, so he lacks Bhutto’s capacity to leverage an extensive network of foreign friends and supporters in order to challenge the U.S.-backed Musharraf.

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Asif Zardari
Most eyes are naturally focusing on Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower and closest adult relative with a political background. But Zardari is not a Bhutto; he did not marry “into” the family. His influence comes from two sources: one, like Bhutto and Fahim, he comes from an influential Sindhi feudal family; two, he was married to the daughter of Pakistan’s most popular politician post-Jinnah.

But Zardari is not viewed as the inheritor of the Bhutto mantle. And so it is highly likely that his political status will recede with the murder of his wife.

Zardari is a stained political figure. The PPP has, in recent years, sought to distance itself from him, who garnered the moniker “Mr. 10 Percent” as a result of his prolific corruption.

At best, he will play the role of a figurehead in a post-Bhutto PPP. Not only is Zardari hampered by negative perceptions and the lack of a claim to the Bhutto name, he is also in poor physical health. And it’s also unclear as to whether he is emotionally prepared to play politics; Zardari has been extremely distraught in multiple appearances on national television since yesterday. He also has three teenage children to raise.

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Aitzaz Ahsan
As a leading figure in the lawyers’ movement, Aitzaz Ahsan’s popularity–particularly with the middle and upper-middle class–has risen considerably this year. As a result, his relations with Benazir Bhutto cooled considerably; she was not happy, to say the least, with his commitment to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the judiciary’s cause.

Ahsan withdrew his nomination papers from the January elections; it’s unclear as to whether he had Bhutto’s endorsement, though it’s likely it was done against her will. His commitment to the judicial cause, while earning Bhutto’s anger, also gained points with the Pakistani public. Ahsan is seen as one of the few viable politicians who refused to consent to Musharraf’s subversion of the constitution. And so he can serve as a vehicle for restoring the public trust in the People’s Party as a popular, democratic front.

Unlike Bhutto, Ahsan is Punjabi, not Sindhi and so it’s difficult to see him alone holding up Bhutto’s popular base in Sindh. He could, to some extent, help propel the People’s Party in Punjab, but that would put the party on a more agitational course with not only the PML-Q, but also the PML-N — and it’s unclear as to whether the party wants to tussle with the latter.

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Bilawal Bhutto Zardari
As Benazir Bhutto’s eldest child, Bilawal’s entry into politics would precede that of his younger sisters (aged 16 and 14 respectively), if he choses to enter this dangerous field. But he’s only 19 and barely speaks Urdu. Bilawal just began his studies at Oxford, after living in Dubai for eight years–almost half his life. While Benazir spent her adolescence and early adulthood as her father’s political apprentice–even accompanying him to the Simla negotiations with Indira Gandhi–Bilawal has had no similar training. Bilawal’s political career will begin, if ever, gradually and in a highly managed fashion

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Farhatullah Babar
A long-time Bhutto loyalist and spokesperson, Babar will continue in his media relations capacity and providing counsel to the remainder of the party’s senior brass. He did not register for the January national and provincial elections and resigned from the Senate in 2006. If he returns to electoral politics, it’s more likely he’ll re-enter that body.

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Shah Mehmood Qureshi
As head of the PPP in Punjab, Qureshi will continue to shape the party’s operations in the country’s largest province. A feudal and Cambridge graduate, he frequently comes on political talk shows on behalf of the party. Qureshi could increasingly become a power broker at the national level.

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Sherry Rehman
A graduate of Smith College, Sherry Rehman came from a similar cultural and ideological background as Benazir Bhutto. While she can help continue the party’s media campaign in both Pakistan and the West, odds are she will do little more.

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Fatima Bhutto
A 25-year old Columbia graduate and daughter of Benazir’s slain brother, Fatima is perhaps the ultimate wild card in the post-Benazir PPP. Relations between she and her aunt were immensely hostile. Fatima accused Benazir of being behind the assassination of her father, Murtaza Bhutto–one of Benazir’s younger brothers. Fatima has been an active columnist and civil society advocate in Karachi. She has the name, the brain, and the brawns to play politics. In a potential step toward rapproachment with other Bhuttos and the Zardaris, she and her Lebanese stepmother, Ghinwa Bhutto–who runs her own PPP faction–attended Benazir’s funeral. That’s, however, a long way from mending ties with her late aunt’s inner circle. Though Fatima has been reluctant to assume any status seen as hereditary, she could come to see some utility in national politics. Will she and her stepmother rejoin Benazir’s PPP, or will they continue to remain separate, and even push for defections toward their camp? It’s all very much in the air.

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Other Influentials: Raza Gilani; Jehangir Bader; Raza Rabbani; Babar Awan; Qaim Ali Shah; Enver Baig

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Things Fall Apart

Benazir Bhutto recently blamed Pakistan’s intelligence services for the fractures emerging in her party’s elite. The former prime minister is highly concerned with cohesiveness of the PPP, making party members take loyalty oaths on the Qur’an. Though the intelligence services have previously and will continue to cause defections from her party, Bhutto alone bears responsibility for the PPP’s current internal challenges.

In late November, Masood Sharif Khattak–head of the intelligence bureau under Bhutto and PPP member for over 20 years–resigned from the party, possibly due to objections over Bhutto’s hardline stance against the insurgents in northwest Pakistan (he is a Pathan) and her dealings with Pervez Musharraf.

Earlier this month, Naseerullah Babar–Bhutto’s long-time national security adviser–rejected offers for a PPP ticket in the upcoming elections, citing his opposition to her talks with Pervez Musharraf.

Last week, Aitzaz Ahsan withdrew his nomination papers after Bhutto rejected his proposal that election candidates take an oath that they will earnestly work for the restoration of the pre-November 3rd judiciary when the new parliament convenes. She said that Ahsan’s proposal– a reasonable compromise that permitted both electoral participation and commitment to the pro-judiciary cause–was his “personal point of view and the PPP has nothing to do with it.” After Ahsan’s withdrawal, Bhutto stated that he must decide whether he’s with the PPP or the chief justice. On Friday, she also stated that the pre-November 3rd judiciary was not independent. As I’ve written earlier, Bhutto never had much fondness for Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his colleagues. In Dubai, prior to her return to Pakistan, Bhutto accused the court of a historic bias in favor of Punjabis. [Video]

This week, Naheed Khan–one of Bhutto’s closest friends and political allies–also withdrew her nomination papers, albeit for more personal reasons. Khan opposes Bhutto’s proximity to Husain Haqqani, the architect of her U.S. lobbying campaign, and offering of an election ticket to his current wife. Haqqani was previously married to Khan’s sister. While Haqqani is currently a professor at Boston University and a fellow at the neo-conservative Hudson Institute, there are reports Bhutto could offer him a Senate seat when one becomes available. Soap opera drama aside, Nahid Khan’s withdrawal is significant as she had previously been the medium by which people communicate to Bhutto. However, it should be noted that she remains as Bhutto’s political secretary.

What does this all mean? The PPP isn’t necessarily in a state of crisis, but it could be if Bhutto & Company fail to shape up. Rather than blaming the intelligence services for causing splits in her party, these particular developments are the product of Bhutto’s authoritarian hold over the PPP.

Bhutto needs to improve her capacity to channel differences of opinion and multiple dominant personalities within the party into a reasonable mean. Over the course of more than a decade, Bhutto has failed to demonstrate much of an ability to do so; recall how she pushed out her mother and late brother out of the party. The challenges the PPP faces today is the result of her overpersonalization of the party’s decision-making structure and an overaggressive lobbying campaign in the U.S.

Gone is the era in which one could make statements in Washington and not have them reach Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. Bhutto’s statements in Washington regarding giving the IAEA access to A.Q. Khan, for example, made their way to Pakistan instantaneously. Farhatullah Babar, a senior PPP leader and Bhutto loyalist, was compelled to deny that Bhutto had made the comments attributed to her, despite the video recording. The discord between her discourse in the West and in Pakistan has been telling.

Rather than asking Aitzaz Ahsan whether he’s loyal to the PPP or Chief Justice Chaudhry, she should ask herself what is the People’s Party to begin with? Is she the chairperson of the People’s Party or, effectively, the Bhutto’s Party? And has she, in her quest for another premiership, pulled the party too far from its populist, anti-military rule roots?

Instead of pointing fingers elsewhere, now is the time for introspection for Bhutto, for by the time her son Bilawal finishes his studies at Oxford and learns a modicum of Urdu, Pakistan’s first mass political party might be in tatters.

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Aitzaz Ahsan to Boycott Elections

For much of this year, Aitzaz Ahsan has been pulled in opposite directions by the lawyers’ movement, of which he is a leader, and the Benazir Bhutto-led People’s Party.   Jailed by Musharraf after imposition of emergency rule, Ahsan was recently released from prison so he could file his election nomination papers.  His party had, for several weeks, asserted that it would participate in the elections; but the lawyers’ movement has been resolutely against any sort of legitimation of Musharraf’s constitutional contravention.

As Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N veered toward electoral participation, Ahsan — sensing the political establishment was wiping its hands clean of the lawyers’ movement — proposed a compromise to the candidates: participate in the elections, but take an oath that you will work to reinstate the pre-November 3rd judiciary and repeal legal changes made under emergency rule when the new parliament convenes.

The sensible and just compromise was rejected by Bhutto, who sees Ahsan as a challenge to her control of the party for which she is “chairperson for life.”  When asked about Ahsan’s proposal, Bhutto replied, “It is Aitzaz Ahsan’s personal point of view and the PPP has nothing to do with it.”

Now it seems as if Ahsan might have nothing to do with the PPP.  Today, he withdrew his nomination papers and announced he will be boycotting the elections.  Ahsan’s full return to the lawyers’ movement gives it the leadership it has been lacking in recent weeks.  Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry remains under house arrest and is virtually incommunicado.  Former Supreme Court Bar Association President Muneer Malik was allegedly fed a liquid in prison that caused renal failure.  He is now being sent abroad for medical care.  Firebrand Ahmad Ali Kurd appears to remain under tight house arrest, despite being released from prison.

Aitzaz Ahsan will not be part of the next parliament if and when it convenes after the January polls.  But Ahsan, with his credibility intact, might have enough to last the potential coming storm and come out on top.

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Friday Round-Up: Saudi Ambassador Meets Chaudhry; PML Unification; Musharraf Stays in Army House; Election Rigging

SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN MEETS CHIEF JUSTICE CHAUDHRY
The Pakistan government prevented Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from meeting deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. However, it did permit the Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Ali Awadh Asseri to pay a visit to Chaudhry today.

Asseri likely did not come to deposed chief justice with an olive branch from Musharraf. His visit is the latest of Saudi moves to ensure some political stability in Pakistan.

BBC Urdu reports that the Saudi ambassador offered Iftikhar Chaudhry exile in Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to prevent another judicial crisis in the country. Chaudhry refused the offer, stating that the only solution is a restoration of the pre-November 3rd judiciary.

In an earlier version of this post, I had suggested that the Asseri’s visit is also part of a Saudi bid to restore its good standing with the Pakistani public after taking Nawaz Sharif back in Jeddah. However, its reported offering of exile to Chaudhry is, in the words of Yogi Berra, déjà vu all over again. If accurate, the Saudi offer demonstrates their concern for political stability significantly outweighs any interest in Pakistani public perception of the kingdom. Like the September deportation of Nawaz, it is reasonable to believe that the offer comes with the blessings, or even at the behest, of Washington.

PML UNIFICATION
Continuing on the theme of the Saudi role in Pakistan, Dawn News reports that a “brotherly Muslim nation”, i.e. Saudi Arabia, is actively urging the disparate factions of the Pakistan Muslim league (Nawaz, Quaid, Functional) to unite.

This move makes sense on its own right. It is in Pakistan’s interest for the PML to consolidate and establish itself as a cohesive, ideologically-sound center-right party that is less personality driven.

But the unification, which would only occur after elections, also serves Saudi interests in checking the political position of Benazir Bhutto.

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Pervez Musharraf has decided to keep the Army House in Rawalpindi as his residence. Though he has been president since 2001, he never moved into the presidential residence.

THE “SOFT BIGOTRY OF LOW EXPECTATIONS”
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the upcoming elections in Pakistan are “not going to be…perfect.”

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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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