Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Musharaff's Options

By Cernig

The news from Pakistan is still uncertain, with the Supreme Court now hearing three seperate challenges to Musharaff's wish to continue to serve as a uniformed military president.
Musharraf, who is also army chief, hopes to get re-elected by the national and provincial assemblies some time between September 15 and October 15. A general election is due around the year-end.

But Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, has seen his popularity slide since he tried to dismiss the chief of the Supreme Court in March.

At the same time, the government is under attack by militants who are believed to have engineered Tuesday's suicide bombings near the army headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi that killed 25 people, including staff of the main intelligence agency.

Musharraf has turned for help with his political plans to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in the hope that a power-sharing deal would boost his legitimacy and support and help him overcome constitutional hurdles to remaining in power.

The United States and other Western allies hope a pact between the old rivals would bring stability and help sustain Pakistan's efforts in the war on terrorism.

The Supreme Court, presided over by the chief justice Musharraf tried to fire in March, began hearing three petitions against the president filed by his opponents, who include lawyers and Islamist politicians.

The challenges centre on Musharraf's holding of the posts of president and army chief at the same time and seeking another term as president, which opponents say is unconstitutional.

"Our battle, our struggle, is against the system," A.K. Dogar, a lawyer for the Pakistan Lawyers' Forum, which filed one of the petitions, told the court in a reference to military rule.

The court is due to resume the hearing on Thursday.
For once, I find myself in total agreement with Captain Ed as he writes that Musharaff's options are narrowing rapidly and that talk of martial law is again coming from Musharaff's supporters.
If the court rules against him, as it almost certainly will, Musharraf has two options. The first will be emergency rule and the postponement of elections for over a year. That might buy him some time, but it will absolutely devastate his long-term political prospects. It also will force the moderates away from Musharraf and isolate him even further in Pakistan.

The other option is parliamentary elections as a postponing measure. It might pay off for Musharraf's party, but without Bhutto, no one will consider the results credible. It might make matters worse, as the extremists could gain more power in Parliament, especially if the moderates refuse to participate if Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are not allowed to return.
Indeed, it has been obvious that those were Musharaff's options for some time now - and recently I've become less convincd than I was that Bhutto can be Pakistan's saviour from martial law.

Back in March, I posted on this subject and quoted the words of B. Raman, the former head of the counter-terrorism division of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's CIA. His analysis of the possible scenarios is well worth a read. It seems to me that Mushraff is still strong enough to make the choice as to what he will do next rather than having it forced upon him, but that is changing. Even so, the possibility of an Islamist revolution in Pakistan is still the least likely outcome of all.

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