PAKISTAN: COMING TO TERMS WITH REALITY
Mr.Asif Ali Zardari, the acting Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and Mr.Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister and President of the main faction of the Pakistan Muslim League called PML (N), signed on March 9,2008, an important power-sharing agreement to pave the way for the formation of coalition governments at the centre in Islamabad and in Punjab.
2. Under this agreement, while the PPP would head the Government at the Centre with the PML (N) joining it as an equal partner, the PML (N) would head the provincial Government in Punjab with the PPP joining it as an equal partner.
3.Till March 9, Nawaz was imposing two conditions for joining the coalition at the centre. The first was that his representatives in the Cabinet would not agree to be sworn in by President Pervez Musharraf, whom they regarded as illegally holding the office of the President. As a way out, it was being suggested by them that Musharraf could go on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and that , during his absence, Mohammedmian Soomro, the Chairman of the Senate, who will be the acting President, can swear in the Cabinet.
4. The second condition being imposed by Nawaz was that there should be a prior commitment by Zardari that former Chief Justice Iftikar Mohammad Chaudhury and other judges sacked by Musharraf after imposing a State of Emergency on November 3,2007, would be reinstated. Zardari was disinclined to accept this suggestion. Instead, he was suggesting that the matter should be left to the collective wisdom of the Parliament to decide.
5. The agreement signed on March 9,2008, marks a climb-down by Nawaz on both these issues. He is now agreeable to letting his party's Ministers in the central Cabinet being sworn in by Musharraf. He has agreed that the new Parliament would pass a resolution, within 30 days of the new Government assuming office, calling for the reinstatement of the sacked Chief Justice and Judges.
6. A resolution does not mean that the sacked judges would be automatically re-instated. All it means is that the PPP Prime Minister would, on the basis of the resolution, recommend to Musharraf the re-instatement of the sacked judges. Nothing can be done against Musharraf if he chooses to ignore the recommendation or rejects it. The Senate, the upper House of the Parliament, was constituted by Musharraf in 2003. His supporters control it. Six of his supporters belonging to the PML (Qaide Azam), his creation, have defected and formed their own bloc, which would support PML (N). Despite their desertion, Musharraf's supporters still control the Senate for which fresh elections are due only in 2009. Unless there are more desertions from the ranks of Musharraf's supporters in the Senate, Musharraf cannot be removed by impeachment. The Constitution of 1973 clearly lays down that for impeachment to take effect, the resolution recommending it should be passed by the two Houses of the Parliament sitting together in a joint session, with more than two-thirds of the total membership of the two Houses voting for it.
7. The opponents of Musharraf do not have the numbers in favour of impeachment till now. The only option left to Nawaz in these circumstances is to keep humiliating Musharraf in the hope that he would himself get disgusted and quit. Musharraf, the commando that he is, is determined to fight it out for as long as he can.
8. Analyses by many analysts in Pakistan as well as in India and other countries that Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), has started asserting himelf and marking his distance from Musharraf added to the rigidity of Nawaz. These analyses were based on the fact that before the elections of February 18,2008, Kiyani had issued a circular forbidding his officers from having any contacts with political leaders and that he had started withdrawing from civilian departments serving military officers working there. These analyses had overlooked the fact that such circulars were routine and had had been issued periodically even by the predecessors of Kiyani, including by Musharraf himself. One might recall that Musharraf, as the COAS under Nawaz before October,1999, had forced his Corps Commander in Quetta to retire prematurely because he had called on Nawaz, the then Prime Minister, without his permission and had not informed him about the meeting after it had taken place.
9. Similarly, there was nothing new or significant in Kiyani's action in withdrawing many serving military officers from the civilian departments. Musharraf himself had sent back to the Army on his own serving military officers working in the Presidential Secretariat after he had shed his dual charge as the COAS and become a civilian President. The civilian Government, which would come to power after the elections, would have ordered the serving military officers in the civilian departments to go back to the Army. Kiyani had merely avoided an embarrassing situation for himself by anticipating this and recalling them back. The largest single group (about 50) of serving officers recalled was working in the offices of the Accountability Bureau and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which were looking into charges of corruption against Benazir Bhutto, Zardari, Nawaz and other political leaders. It would have been embarrassing for these officers to continue to perform such duties after the elections. Moreover, many of the corruption investigations were discontinued under the understanding reached by Musharraf with Benazir for a political reconciliation. These analysts did not notice that Kiyani did not withdraw serving military officers working in civilian departments, which had a national security role such as the Intelligence Bureau of the Ministry of the Interior and the Narcotics Control Bureau.
10. The conclusions based on such defective analyses that differences had developed between Musharraf and Kiyani were incorrect. The two have been steadfast friends for many years and this friendship continues. Kiyani had shown many gestures to Musharraf after taking over as the COAS. He agreed to Musharraf's continuing to live in the Army House in Rawalpindi, where the COAS normally lives. Kiyani continues to live in his old house as the Vice-Chief of the Army Staff. While Musharraf stopped going to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, he retained his camp or residential office in the Army House where he normally attends to all work relating to the Armed Forces in his capacity as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. While he sent back to the Army the serving military officers in the Presidential Secretariat, he did not send back those working in his camp office. While Musharraf gave Kiyani full freedom of action as the professional head of the Army in all matters concerning promotions, postings, transfers, counter-terrorism operations etc, he continued to perform as actively as before his role as the supreme commander of the Armed Forces. Kiyani kept reporting to Musharraf and not to the acting Prime Minister about all actions taken by him before the elections for maintaining law and order and about the progress of the counter-terrorism operations. The statements issued by the GHQ after the meetings of Kiyani with Musharraf specifically mentioned that Kiyani met Musharraf in his camp office in Rawalpindi. He did not meet him in his Presidential office in Islamabad.
11. Despite all this, the persistent speculation in Pakistan and abroad that Kiyani was marking his distance from Musharraf and striking out independently in matters concerning the Army embarrassed both and created a false sense of confidence in Nawaz and his supporters that the Army would not intervene in support of Musharraf if they carried on their campaign for his ouster. In the first week of March, 2008, Musharraf and Kiyani separately of each other sought to dispel impressions of any differences between them. Musharraf did so during a public interaction and Kiyani during a Corp Commanders' conference on March 6,2008. This had a dampening effect on Nawaz and the PML (N) and contributed to Nawaz's climb-down.
12. Despite Kiyan's denial of differences with Musharraf and his re-affirmation of his continuing loyalty to Musharraf, he is unlikely to intervene in support of Musharraf if there is a confrontation between him and Zardari. But the Army as an institution could intervene in support of Musharraf if there is an unpleasant confrontation with Nawaz, who is intensely disliked by senior army officers because of his perceived attempts to humiliate the Army and Musharraf in October,1999, by sacking Musharraf while he had not yet returned to the country from his visit to Sri Lanka, breaking with the traditions of the Army by nominating Lt.Gen.Ziauddin, the then Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), who was an engineer, as the COAS in place of Musharraf and attempting to force Musharraf's plane to land in an airport in India, which senior officers saw as enemy territory. It was the outraged senior Army officers under the leadership of Lt.Gen.Mohammed Aziz, the then Chief of the General Staff, who physically prevented Ziauddin from taking over, arrested him and Nawaz and seized power. Whereas the coups of Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq were staged by them, the coup which gave political power to Musharraf was staged by his senior officers because of their anger over the way Nawaz treated the Army. This anger had been building up since 1998 when Nawaz forced Gen.Jehangir Karamat to quit as the COAS because of his unhappiness over his public statement calling for the setting-up of a National Security Council.
13. The fear that the Army may not remain quiet if he pushed his confrontation with Musharraf and his personal anger against Musharraf to the point of forcing his exit under humiliating conditions has now made Nawaz moderate some of his demands. Zardari has been more mature on some of these issues. He has hinted at his willingness to work in accommodation with Musharraf provided his powers to dismiss the Prime Minister and dissolve the National Assembly are removed. He has also hinted at his willingness to allow some of the new policy-making institutions set up by Musharraf to continue to function--- such as the NSC, an original idea ofd Karamat. He has also avoided calling for any major changes in Musharraf's policy of co-operating with the US in counter-terrorism. He has marked his distance from Musharraf in matters relating to operations against the Baloch militants, but not against Al Qaeda and the Neo Taliban. He has been more attentive to the concerns and views of the US and the rest of the West than Nawaz.
14. The US has stopped its public identification with Musharraf and its lionisation of him. The policy of "Musharraf right or wrong" is being slowly jettisoned without seeming to be so. It would like Musharraf to continue in office, but is longer averse to his quitting if this comes about gradually and not in an abrupt manner, damaging the operations against the terrorists. There are three foreign players actively, but discreetly involved in efforts to avoid a crisis in Pakistan---the US, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia has some influence over Nawaz and the UAE over Zardari. Will their efforts to prevent a crisis in Pakistan succeed? It is too early to say. Whether a crisis is prevented or not would depend on the willingness of Musharraf and Nawaz to forget the perceived humiliation, which they suffered at the hands of each other in October,1999. The majority of public opinion in Pakistan would prefer that Musharraf quits, but how to bring it about in a manner that would not damage Pakistan's national interests?
15.Maqdoom Amin Fahim, the Vice-Chairman of the PPP, had visited the US in 2007. During his interactions with the Pakistani community in the US he was repeatedly asked two questions: Why was Benazir not supporting the campaign of the lawyers and Nawaz for the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury? Why was she discouraging her party cadress from joining the public demonstrations on this issue? According to reports carried by sections of the Pakistani media in the US, he replied that Benazir was not convinced that Nawaz was genuinely interested in the independence of the judiciary. Nawaz was hoping that if he succeeded in getting the Chief Justice reinstated, the latter as a quid pro quo would set aside his conviction under the Anti-Terrorism Act in 2000 thereby paving the way for his becoming the Prime Minister again. The Maqdoom also reportedly stated that Benazir was against a street agitation against Musharraf because she feared that such an agitation could lead to one military dictator being replaced by another just as Yahya Khan replaced Ayub Khan.
16. These reservations of Benazir would continue to influence the policies of Zardari and the PPP despite all the bonhomie exhibited for the media cameras at the time of the signing of the joint declaration on government formation on March 9,2008. ( 11-3-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )