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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2708

Pakistan: Towards Showdown?

By Dr.Abdul Ruff Colachal

Musharraf on 11 March issued a communiqué and summoned parliament to meet on March 17, ending speculations ands setting up a showdown with the opposition parties who have got quite a lot of problems to solve now. Essentially, the one-point agenda of the opposition parties led by Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) of ousting president Musharraf is getting out of hand gradually, the leaders are, yet, coming closer to form the government by removing the differences that cropped up in their negotiations for power-share. They had pressed for an early session of parliament to project their solidarity for showing the door to Musharraf who has successfully conducted the pool on February 18.

Former premier Benazir Bhutto's PPP is set to form government at the centre with the backing of former premier Nawaz Sharif's PML-N and the Awami National Party, which draws its support from the ethnic Pashtun minority. The three parties are five seats short of a two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament, having won a total of 223 seats in the 342-member National Assembly. The victorious parties have been demanding that the president summon the National Assembly so that they can elect their prime minister. According to detailed results, the PPP has 120 seats, the PML-N 90 seats and the Awami National Party 13 seats.

The PML-Q, which backs Musharraf, is the third largest group in the National Assembly with 51 seats. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement has 25 seats, the Muttahida Majlas-e-Amal six seats, the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional five seats and the Pakistan People's Party-Sherpao, National People's Party and Balochistan National Party-Awami one seat each.

The opposition has also raised a few more issues to be settled in the parliament. Apart from removal of Musharraf as the top priory item on the opposition agenda, role of presidency and its place in relation to parliament, role of military in Pakistan and its role in relation to legislature, role of judiciary and appointment of judges, choice of Prime-Minister are doing rounds in political discourses of the opposition conclaves. All these issues finally converge on the single agenda of removal Musharraf. And if Musharraf could be removed the opposition would even scrap the remaining issues for future conveniently. Two main parties in the new government formation, PPP and PML-N, are now facing new problems in their efforts to oust Musharraf, rather than serve the nation and people who have given them the mandate to become so aggressive. The latest addition is about the choice of prime-minister. Pakistan Peoples Party and PML-N have agreed on all the important issues including the reinstatement of the deposed judges through the newly elected parliament.

The first Parliamentary party meeting of Pakistan Peoples Party on 06 March that lasted more than two hours that PPP Chairman Asif Ali Zardari presided over at Zardari House, could not finalize the name of its candidate for the slot of prime minister. PPP decided to take the decision within next two days after intensive consultations with party leaders and thorough interviews with almost all the parliamentarians. “The process of consultations with newly elected parliamentarians will start from Friday” he added, saying, “Today’s meeting discussed issues relating to formation of the government”, said PPP leader Nabil Gabol. The independent MNAs elect who have joined PPP were also present in the meeting.

Meeting

PPP and PML-N in critical talks on March 09 in Murree have tentatively agreed on a few issues like the reinstatement of the deposed judges, the key demand of Nawaz, through the newly elected parliament with in 30 days after the formation of federal government. In return PML-N and MNA will be part of the federal cabinet – the main burden of the PPP’s strenuous efforts so far. A resolution, to be presented by the coalition parties, will be passed in the parliament regarding the reinstatement of the deposed judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. This breakthrough was achieved in a meeting between Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N Quaid Muhammad Nawaz Sharif here after hectic wooing by PPP. The issue of judges has not been the central problem of PMLN or PPP, but it came handy in fighting elections to marginalize Musharraf. As such none of these parties can afford to stand by judges if their positions become weaker in the days to come.

It is quite likely that the opposition parties also eye on the presidency for one of its top stalwarts, presumably for Nawaz Sharif, who has already served premier of Pakistan before he was ousted by General Musharraf in a life and death struggle with the former. Sharif has been insisting on Musharraf's resignation following the defeat of his supporters, including the PML-Q, in the elections while Zardari has said the new parliament will decide the government's relationship with the President. Musharraf sensing that political heat may turn on him once the National Assembly is convened is making last ditch efforts to nudge the PPP to his side. "I will support the government. Opposition agitating over the fact that President Pervez Musharraf had not convened session of the National Assembly, but hoping that he would convene it any time now, almost all the PPP MNA’s were dwelling in the federal capital.

Rift

Recent statements of Zardari on government formation and on Kashmir have changed the over all perspective of Pakistan’s politics as well as the views of Kashmiris about the role of the present Pakistani opposition in independence struggle in Kashmir. Asif Ali Zardari says he does not want to work against any institutions of the state, and counts the National Security Council among such institutions. He is also not seemingly in favor of upsetting the system of local governments although it has, according to him, proved a failure. He also insists that he has reached an understanding with the PMLN on the resolution of the judges’ case “inside the parliament”. In other words, essentially he supports Musharraf and Pakistan’s position on major issues. PP might consider aligning with Musharraf to achieve greater stability of Pakistan and advance its legitimate interests and power in the region and world. Only a stable Pakistan can take the nation forward.

Zardari’s statements are being attributed to his having a soft corner for President Musharraf. Zardari’s views on President Musharraf and how the PPP should go along with him have exposed a difference of opinion not just within the PPP itself but its main ally, the PML-N. Amin Fahim, vice chairperson of the PPP, has said in a television interview that Article 58(2)(b), which empowers the president to dissolve the government and the parliament, has to be deleted from the Constitution to ensure supremacy of parliament. His views about the office of the president are seen as ensuring the president’s role in the next government. It is plain that if we need a strong parliament that is capable of functioning without the fear of Article 58 (2b) hovering over it, all political parties must take a collective stand against it and National Security Council (NSC).

Earlier Nawaz Sharif, whose top most priority is removal of Musharraf and delinking military interference from politics, assumed that the issue of the judges would be resolved ”amicably” inside parliament without saying that he will back off from his demand for a full fledged restoration. His view on the National Security Council is equally clear: he wants it removed with one stroke of the pen. Sharif has also left no lingering doubt about his party’s resolve not to take oath of office in the federal cabinet under President Musharraf. In fact, Nawaz still insists that he would strive for a two-thirds majority in the two houses of parliament to get rid of Article 58(2)b and impeach the president. Nawaz Sharif complains of intrigues in the presidential palace.

PMLN chief thinks they have not attained genuine democracy after the February 18 elections. This take on presidential powers is in sharp contrast to Zardari’s who has adopted a conciliatory relationship with the president in running the affairs of the state. Besides the restoration of the judiciary, the status of President Musharraf is one of the issues that divide the PML-N and the PPP. Interestingly, even PML(Q) secretary general Mushahid Hussain has said that he will support the repeal of 58(2)(b) in parliament, causing embarrassment to the PML(Q). Nawaz Sharif has shown enormous flexibility in his tough stance of not allowing his MNAs to join the PPP-led government at the Centre.

PPP and PMLN do not have any common program to keep their alliance up, but Musharraf factor would not keep the flocks together for all the time to come. That points to the possibility, should things go wrong, of PPP joining up with the PMLQ and its residual political partners to make a government at the centre and prevent the swelling of the PMLN ranks in Punjab. Can the PPP fall back on this option in case the bipartisan committee in Islamabad comes to no useful agreement or if the proposed PPP-PMLN alliance falls apart after a few months of testing each other in Islamabad and Punjab? The possibility of this happening cannot be ruled out. Yet, President Musharraf seems to be working at keeping the PMLQ and its third largest bloc of seats intact in the National Assembly and in Punjab with a view to being a player.

Bargains

PPP offered the slot of speaker National Assembly to the PML-N, then seasoned politician Javed Hashmi might be considered for this important job. During the last two days, Asif Zardari had been trying to convince the PML-N negotiators that if they were forming a parliamentary alliance in the National Assembly in the greater national interest, then Nawaz Sharif should also give some names for induction in the new cabinet. Asif Zardari always pressured the Nawaz camp that its party MNAs should sit in the cabinet, saying it would strengthen the concept of national government at the Centre and enable them to share the responsibility of all the good and bad decisions that awaited the new government.

Likewise, it was observed by the PPP camp that in case the PML-N did not join the government and only extended parliamentary support within the House, then the whole burden of tough decisions would fall on the shoulders of the PPP, which might jeopardize its public image. So Zardari put pressure on Nawaz that if his party was serious in getting the sacked judges restored, then the best course was to sit in the cabinet. However, the two sides were yet to work out the modalities in this regard. The PML-N would also follow a similar pattern in the Punjab and would offer share to the PPP in the provincial cabinet.

Further, Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan People’s Party are also mulling over the 65/35 percentage distribution formula of ministries in Punjab coalition government. Both the parties have general consensus on the formula but the final decision would be taken after the meeting of the leaders of both the parties.

PPP General Secretary Raja Pervez Ashraf said: “Both parties are committed to moving forward towards real democracy and progress by taking all the democratic forces on board” Raja said, saying, “This is a good sign in the interest of country and its people”. The PPP and the PMLN strive to remove differences and contradictions in their political stances, were moving towards the resolution of two central points of difference: the judges’ restoration and the participation of the PMLN in the federal cabinet led by the PPP, the PPP and the PMLN strive to remove differences and contradictions in their political stance. Commenting on the working relationship between PPPP and PML-N he said that there existed a unique harmony and understanding between the two political parties on all issues of national importance.

Prime Minister, Who?

Zardari told an American magazine that he could also become a nominee for the premiership. He could not take part in the elections due to his conviction in corruption cases but the government withdrew corruption cases, paving way for his becoming member of parliament. He is likely to contest bye-election possibly on the vacant seat of Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in firing and suicide attack on December 27th in Rawalpindi.

There are a few names for the PM slot but PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim is considered to be a front-runner in the race. Born in the town of Hala in southern Sindh, on August 4, 1939, Fahim has served as acting party chief during the 8-year exile of Benazir Bhutto. Fahim is unhappy that his name is not being cleared by PPP high command. Several other names for the post were also mentioned in party circles, including Yousaf Raza Gailani, former Speaker National Assembly, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a former federal minister and the PPP Punjab chief and Ahmed Mukhtar, former Commerce minister.

The PML-N said it is opposed to senior PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim being made the prime minister because of his apparent proximity to the military regime. Comments came close on the heels of differences between Fahim and Zardari over the nomination of the prime ministerial candidate. PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif said the prime ministerial candidate should be a person who would be able to deliver on a common agenda for governance and not someone "whose antenna could pick up rays from a different direction".

Fahim, till recently the front-runner for the slot, has been sidelined by the PPP and did not attend the meeting in Murree on March 09 where the PPP and PML-N signed an agreement on forming a coalition. There have also been reports that Fahim met Musharraf a few days after the February 18 general election without informing the PPP's top leadership.

A Firm Musharraf

President Pervez Musharraf, who announced 17 Match as date for the national Assembly to meet, promised to fully support the new coalition government led by it. "The provincial assemblies sessions will be called in weeks," Musharraf said. "I will support the government. I hope the new governments at the centre and in the provinces will complete their five-year constitutional term", the Pakistan President said. He hoped the new government would continue his regime's economic policies and the campaign against extremism. Dismissing reports in a section of the media that he was contemplating resigning, Musharraf said some elements which "do not care about the country and the people" were trying to create misunderstanding. There are also 18 independent lawmakers in the National Assembly.

An Observation

Democracy, unbridled or unchecked by constitutional mechanism would collapse itself as well as burry the nation by generating chaos. The office of Presidency can do enough justice to the nation and people only if it s strong. USA and Russia have strong presidencies.

Sharif has been insisting on Musharraf's resignation following the defeat of his supporters, including the PML-Q, in the elections while PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has said the new parliament will decide the government's relationship with the President.

Role of military in Pakistan has special history of its own and it might help Musharraf, the former General, to remain in power, if turmoil gets intensified by the future action of the victorious political parties. The pro-Musharraf US is anxiously watching the political development in the country and how the emerging political powers in Pakistan are dealt with the law and order situation in the country, especially in Tribal Areas. Washington, focus on Afghanistan, is ready to extend all types of assistance to the Pakistan Army to make it “more effective and more competent. The US had been getting a lot of help from Pakistan.

It is generally observed that a unity government with President overseeing the government achievements should be encouraged by all parties in Pakistan for a strong Pakistan and for encouraging better Pakistani citizens.

Only a united Pakistani leadership can restate the original Pakistani position on Pakistan’s goals and its brotherly policy for freedom fighting Kashmiris. Anti-Islamic forces seeking to dislodge any strong government in Pakistan, create wedge between Pakistan and Kashmiris, alone can think of asking Pakistan to shelve the Kashmir issue, even temporarily. Because, that would put an end to aspirations of true Kashmiris and above all, that would amount to total failure of Islamic Pakistan’s foreign policy. Whatever changes that are mooted for Presidency could come into force only when Musharraf’s term ends. PPP and PMLN and other stake holders should shed their anti-Musharrafism and rise to occasion to strengthen the Pakistan’s power.

Dr.Abdul Ruff Colachal, Research Scholar, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

- Asian Tribune -

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