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Attacks on Pro-Taliban Politician Point Toward Intra-Jihadi Divide

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a leading Pakistani Islamist politician, was the target today of a second suicide bombing attack in as many days.  The attacks on Fazl, who heads his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e Islam, a pro-Taliban Deobandi party, come days after State Department cables provided by WikiLeaks to The Hindu reveal that he wanted to mediate between the United States and the Taliban outside of Pakistan in 2007.

No group has claimed responsibility for the two atacks, but they are most likely unsuccessful assassination attempts by irreconcilable Pakistani jihadists who disapprove of his attempts to engage the United States and push for a political settlement for the war in Afghanistan.  Fazl, the bearded, burly son of a prominent Pakistani cleric and politician, is known to be a smooth political operator and has been on the Pakistani Taliban’s hit list since 2008.

This week’s attacks on Fazl are the latest in a series of violence that suggest a deepening intra-jihadi war inside Pakistan.  On one side are jihadists aligned with al-Qaeda and its borderless conflict; on the other are jihadists and their supporters who cooperate with the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment and see jihad as an instrument of state policy or believe that the Pakistani state is an effective agent of jihad.

This intra-jihadi conflict is best demonstrated by the recent execution of Colonel Imam,  a former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officer who worked with Afghan militants in the 1980s and 1990s but also spoke out against the Pakistani Taliban in recent years.  A Pakistani Taliban video showed the Afghan Taliban supporter being shot at point-blank range as the organization’s amir, Hakimullah Mehsud, watches approvingly.

While the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment (PakMIL) seeks the formal integration of its allies within the Afghan Taliban into the power structure in Afghanistan, it has no such plans inside its own country for the Pakistani Taliban.  A political settlement in Afghanistan could leave the Pakistani Taliban as the odd man out — hence their attacks on those who support the Afghan Taliban but oppose the Pakistani Taliban.

An alternative but far less probable explanation for the attacks on Fazl is that they are intentional near misses by the PakMIL designed to serve as deadly warnings to Fazl to not play his own game and unilaterally engage the United States on the Taliban. According to the State Department cable, Fazl wanted to serve as an intermediary between the United States and the Afghan Taliban — but outside of Pakistan.  This could cut the PakMIL out of the picture, if he was not covertly speaking on its behalf.  As the arrest of Mullah Baradar demonstrates, the PakMIL has reacted and will continue to react strongly when it is believes it is being excluded out of an Afghan settlement.

With that said, the cable is now outdated. Fazl’s outreach to the United States occured nearly five years ago, and in recent months, he appears to have re-aligned with the PakMIL to put pressure on the secular Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).  For the PakMIL, he and his party remain essential counterweights to the ANP in the Pashtun belt and inevitable players in talks with both the Afghan Taliban and reconcilable elements of the Pakistani Taliban.

Fazl has used the attacks as an opportunity to rally his base.  Playing the anti-American card, he blamed the United States and also held his political rivals, the ANP and PPP, responsible for the attacks.  In preparation for possible early parliamentary elections later this year or early next year, Fazl has held large rallies on contentious issues, such as the blasphemy law, and hosted a dinner party with representatives of a broad spectrum of opposition parties.

Ever the political machinator, Fazl is trying to leverage in this life two near-early trips to the next one. Despite his tough public face, the maulana is probably praying that his third strike won’t be coming anytime soon.

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Filling in the Blanks: Nat_____ Recon_________

Let’s Continue Our Conversation…in London
Shahbaz Sharif, president of the Muslim League-Nawaz, tells BBC Urdu that “If Musharraf becomes neutral and promises to hold the polls in a free and fair manner, talks can be held with him.” This is a major break with precedent. Previously the Sharif brothers have publicly ruled out any compromise with Musharraf.

It’s unclear whether Shahbaz’s statement has his brother’s endorsement, though this is highly likely. It could be that Shahbaz is playing good cop, while Nawaz plays bad cop. Additionally, Shahbaz is seen as more conciliatory than his older brother, which would provide Nawaz with some cover (i.e. creating the impression that his brother talked him down from the ledge). A less likely alternative is that Musharraf could be successfully playing one Sharif brother off of the other by offering Shahbaz, not Nawaz, a major position in the national unity government (perhaps prime minister).

Shahbaz has extended his stay in London, where he’ll meet with retired Brigadier Niaz Ahmed (they met in Islamabad over a week ago) and could meet with Pervez Musharraf, who has begun a four nation tour of Europe.

Musharraf will eventually make his way to London, but there are no meetings with government officials slated. Gordon Brown is currently in India, where he called for New Delhi’s addition to the UN Security Council. Musharraf could be avoiding Brown’s snub of Pakistan, but his trip is also designed to temper European opposition. Musharraf will also meet Niaz Ahmed. Prior to leaving Pakistan, Musharraf met with the emir of Abu Dhabi on Saturday. The emirate played host to a Bhutto-Musharraf meeting in July.

Zardari and Malik Qayyum Meet in Dubai
National reconciliation talks must, apparently, occur outside of Pakistan, and so Attorney General Malik Qayyum met with Asif Ali Zardari in Dubai on Saturday. Both left Pakistan in a curiously furtive fashion. The PPP has publicly remained open to dealing with Musharraf after the elections and strongly resist the idea of a national reconciliation government prior to the elections, as they’d delay the polls.

It’s a positive development if Musharraf is negotiating with both the Sharifs and Zardari in earnest. If he’s playing them off of each other, then Musharraf is playing with fire.

Opposition Tours the U.S.
Several opposition figures are on a tour of the United States. Sherry Rehman and Javaid Laghari, both of the People’s Party, will be speaking at the Brookings Institution tomorrow. Imran Khan will be on a multi-city tour, speaking at organizations such as Amnesty International and CSIS and in Pakistani community events, which seem to be fund raisers for his Tehreek-e Insaaf Party.

Fazlur Rahman: Saudi Challo
Maulana Fazlur Rahman was noticeably absent from the public since the news reporting serious threats against him. And he’s done what he seems to do often in challenging moments, go to Saudi Arabia.

Geo Back
Earlier last week, Talat Hussain returned to AAJ television to host his weeknightly public affairs program. In his first show back on air, Talat said he’s back with no strings attached. But it seems as if the show (Live with Talat) is now taped, not live (in accordance with the new media control rules). There is also little mention of the judiciary issue. Nonetheless, the show remains engaging and informative.

GEO News also returned to the air waves today sans their most popular political talk show hosts, Hamid Mir and Shahid Masood. Kashif Abbasi, another prominent television journalist, remains off of ARY One World.

Back to the Barracks
Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has recalled a number of active military officers from cushy positions within the civilian bureaucracy. This follows his earlier move barring senior officers from meeting with politicians.

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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 Fazl Factor

Nicholas Schmidle’s article in this week’s New York Times Magazine on the “Next-Gen Taliban” is one of the most solid stories in recent years on Pakistan’s challenges in its northwest region.  Most foreign commentators and journalists focus exclusively on the area’s security predicament, as if it were entirely distinct from its politics and politicians.

At the center of the North-West Frontier Province’s politics is the scruffy looking, orange turbaned Maulana Fazlur Rahman.  Schmidle’s piece is largely a profile of Fazl, who is also derisively known as “Maulana Diesel” for his alleged role in a fuel sale scandal.

In fact, Schmidle argues that Fazl seeks, and is perhaps best suited, to solve the security crisis in Pakistan’s frontier and tribal areas.  This idea could be gaining some currency.  Late last year, Fazl met with U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Armstrong.  Fazl tells Schmidle that Armstrong asked him to “form an electoral alliance with Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf.”  He’s come a long way since leading anti-U.S. protests during the American invasion of Afghanistan.  Now Fazl reportedly is a target of the neo-Taliban and al-Qaeda and alienated some in his party.

Schmidle, however, is insufficiently cynical of Fazl’s intentions and fails to account for his emerging national role.   Specifically, he doesn’t address Fazl’s aspirations to become Pakistan’s next prime minister, which (however fantastical) figure into his calculus.  This helps explain why he’s been there for Musharraf every time the latter’s needed him; though Fazl led the opposition in the previous parliament, he acted in the government’s interest when it most needed him.

Though the odds of Maulana Diesel becoming Maulana Prime Minister are low, he could decide who’ll be the next prime minister.  Should a single party fail to get a majority in the National Assembly elections, his party will be courted by the major vote getters to form a coalition.  Fazl will certainly ask for the premiership in return; what he’ll actually get remains to be seen.

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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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Editor:

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

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E-mail // Tel: +1(202) 713-5897

On Twitter:
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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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