Tuesday, February 19, 2008



The expression co-habitation came into vogue in France when the late Francois Mitterrand, the leader of the French Socialist Party, was thePresident in the 1980s. In the elections to the French National Assembly held when he was the President, his party was badly defeated andthe Gaullists under Jacques Chirac won a majority.

2. Mitterrand chose to interpret the results as not reflecting on his presidency and he, as the President, and Chirac, as the Prime Minister,decided to co-habit. Under the French Constitution, the President is not just a figure-head. He has more powers than the British PrimeMinister, but less than the US President. All powers relating to decision-making in respect of foreign policy and national security areexercised by the President who chairs the Cabinet meetings. The Prime Minister exercises all powers relating to domestic policy. Theco-habitation arrangement between Mitterrand and Chirac worked with some periodic tensions, though.

3. The 1973 Pakistani Constitution, which the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto gave to Pakistan, resembled the Indian Constitution with all powers inthe hands of the Prime Minister and with the President reduced to a figurehead. Before appointing Mohammad Khan Junejo as the PrimeMinister, Gen.Zia-ul-Haq changed this to give the President all the powers relating to foreign policy and national security and the power todismiss the Prime Minister. He used this power to dismiss Junejo in 1988 when differences developed between the two over the handling ofthe Afghan proximity attacks in Geneva and over the enquiry into a serious explosion in an arms and ammunition storage depot of the Armyand the Inter-Services Intelligence at Ojehri near Islamabad.

4. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan use this power against Benazir Bhutto in 1990 and Nawaz Sharif in 1993. President Farooq Leghari of thePakistan People's Party, who developed differences with Benazir, used this power to dismiss her in 1996 following allegations of corruptionagainst Asif Zardari and his interference in the administration. The mystery surrounding the death of Murtaza Ali Bhutto, her youngerbrother, in police firing in Karachi in September,1996, after he returned to Karachi from Islamabad where he had allegedly a fierce quarrelwith Zardari and Benazir over dinner regarding his right to be nominated as the Vice-Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, alsocontributed to Leghari's dismissal of Benazir. The cases filed against Asif Zardari at the instance of Leghari are sub-judice.

5. Nawaz Sharif, whose party won a two-thirds majority in the 1996 elections, used this majority to abolish the power of the President todismiss the elected Prime Minister.After seizing power in October,1999,Pervez Musharraf had this power restored in the Constitution. Healso instituted the National Security Council chaired by the President, and transferred to the President all powers relating todecision-making in foreign policy and national security matters. The Constitution, as repeatedly re-cast by Musharraf, resembles more theFrench than the Indian Constitution. Musharraf, therefore, need not necessarily resign because his opponents or critics have secured amajority in the elections.

6. Unless and until the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of Nawaz Sharif are able to have theConstitutional amendments removed, Musharraf will continue to exercise the power of dismissal of the Prime Minister and handle allimportant decision-making in foreign policy and national security matters. That is why when Benazir was negotiating with Musharraf shewas demanding the abolition of the power of the President to dismiss the elected Prime Minister and of the NSC. Musharraf rejected both these demands.

7. A major point of difference between the PPP and the PML (N) related to Nawaz's demand for the reinstatement of Chief Justic IftikharAhmed Chaudhury, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, removed by Musharraf. Benazir found it difficult to support this demand because,in her view, the dismissed Chief Justice was taking undue interest in the expeditious disposal of the case relating to the alleged murder ofMurtaza Bhutto, which has been going on for 12 years with frequent adjournments like the case relating to the kidnapping and murder ofDaniel Pearl, the US journalist by pro-Al Qaeda elements in the beginning of 2002.

8. The national reconciliatuion orders which Musharraf issued last year under an understanding reached with Benazir at the instance of theUS related to all corruption-related cases, but not to the case under the Anti-Terrorism Act under which Nawaz stands convicted and thetrial relating to the death of Murtaza Bhutto. Nawaz is keen to have the dismissed Chief Justice reinstated because firstly, he thinks he willhave the re-election of Musharraf as the President set aside, which Nawaz cannot achieve without a two-thirds majority in the NationalAssembly, and, secondly, he hopes that the reinstated Chief Justice will have his own conviction under the Anti-Terrorism Act set aside,thereby enabling him to be the Prime Minister. Till his conviction is set aside, he cannot be the Prime Minister.

9. The two most liked leaders in the eyes of the Army and the US are Maqdoom Amin Fahim, the Vice-Chairman of the PPP, who used to bethe Minister For Petroleum under Benazir Bhutto during her second tenure as the Prime Minister, and Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother ofNawaz Sharif. Amin Fahim was immensely liked by the US oil companies, particularly UNOCAL. When the UNOCAL hosted a dinner to the thenPresident of Turkmenistan in New York, Benazir deputed him to attend the dinner. After the elections of 2002, Amin Fahim, who is close toMusharraf, was Musharraf's first choice as the Prime Minister. Fahim declined the offer and refused to betray Benazir. Shahbaz Sharif wasvery close the US State Department. Amin Fahim and Shahbaz Sharif are both liked by the Punjabi Generals and the US, who strongly dislikeAsiz Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. One of the reasons for the PPP not doing as well in Southern Punjab as it was expected is the unpopularityof Zardari among the Punjabis.

10. The election results, which are still coming in, have highlighted an interesting outcome. No party has acquired a majority on its own. ThePPP has emerged as the largest single party and will, therefore, have the right to be called first to attempt to form a Government. It willhave two options--- either form the government in co-operation with the PML (N) or in co-operation with PML (Qaide Azam) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) of Altaf Hussain---both supporters of Musharraf. If Nawaz Sharif strikes a hard bargain by demanding there-instatement of the sacked Chief Justice, Zardari might be reluctant to agree to it. On the contrary, the PML (QA) is unlikely to impose anyconditions to co-operate with the PPP. The only conditions which the MQM might impose are the recognition of its importance in anyGovernment formed in Sindh. A major difficulty for the PPP in co-operating with the PML (QA) would be the presence of some remnants ofthe Zia ul-Haq regime in it. It strongly suspects that these remnants must have played a role in the assassination of Benazir.

11. The US and other Western countries are interested in Musharraf continuing as the President. They don't trust Nawaz Sharif because ofhis links with the Jamaat-e-Islami of Qazi Hussain Ahmed. The Jamaat-e-Islami boycotted the elections, but its cadres campaigned forNawaz's Party in Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. They would like to work for a co-habitation arrangement with Musharraf asthe President and Amin Fahim or Shahbaz Sharif as the Prime Minister. Will they succeed or will Musharraf have to quit? The answer to thisquestion lies as much in Washington DC as in Islamabad. Musharraf still has some wriggle room, if he wants to exercise it. Will he wriggle or call it quits? (19-2-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd) , Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )