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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2828

Charter to topple Musharraf

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

Timing chosen by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to strike at Pervez Musharraf with their ‘charter of democracy’ might appear to be right as the General’s popularity, like that of his American mentor, has been dropping fast. But to actually oust Musharraf from power is going to be an altogether different ball game.

The unlikely political duo has an appealing agenda against the General, drawing attention to the security mess he has created in Pakistan’s tribal belt and Balochistan, the well-entrenched institutional corruption in the military and the short shrift he has given to democracy. They have fond hopes of heralding ‘democracy’ that has become so elusive in Pakistan, perhaps because the country has not been able to build strong parliamentary institutions and the people are easily persuaded to believe that politicians are not necessarily a better option than the military.

The earliest the two leaders can implement their strategy will be sometime late in 2007 when the Pakistanis are expected to elect a new national assembly—unless the polls are postponed. Musharraf can also exercise another option to derail moves to defeat him. He can get himself re-elected for another five-year term before he orders general election as he has already said that the existing assemblies could vote a second term to him. And he has given sufficient hints that he has no intention of giving up his army chief’s post, knowing full well that the military will continue to dictate Pakistan’s politics.

That Benazir and Nawaz have decided to forget their bitter past rivalries and come together on one platform to rid their country of direct or indirect military rule is a significant political development though not everyone in Pakistan is impressed and religious parties appear to go their own way, which in essence means the General will survive as if by default. But one thing is clear. It is that despite defections and erosion in their ranks, together the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Nawaz) still command considerable influence over the people. How much, is the question that awaits answer through the ballot. There are factors that will inhibit an optimistic expectation, least of which is the scepticism about the possibility of Bhutto and Sharif actually working in unison and staying the course. After their London meeting, Benazir Bhutto was asked about her uneasy relations with Sharif. She spoke like a chastened leader and said that both she and Sharif had been victims of military dictatorship and added that the two had ‘an understanding of the larger picture.’

Bhutto and Sharif had signed an almost similar document when they had last met in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah in February. About the only important follow up of that meeting was the one held in London. The two respective parties remain in almost the same state of limbo as they were ever since the two leaders left the country, one (Sharif) forced into exile in lieu of ‘pardon’ for facing corruption charges back home and the other deciding to remain out of the country to evade sure arrest in her motherland.

It can be said with certainty, especially after Musharraf’s sharp reaction to the news of his two foes signing a ‘charter for democracy’, that he will make sure that neither is able to move around freely in the country for any campaign against him. While Bhutto may be straightaway taken to jail if and when she lands in the country to face charges of corruption, Sharif, if not arrested, can be put back on the plane on which he arrives in Pakistan Reason: violation of the ‘agreement’ he had signed with Musharraf that he would remain in exile for a period of 10 years (in Saudi Arabia). In any case, Bhutto and Sharif have set no dates for their return to Pakistan.

With their supreme leaders absent from the battle ground how will the two parties prepare themselves to face the formidable challenge from the wily general whose ‘indispensable’ label (conferred by the West) helps him in getting away with virtually all the sins? It is not a question about communications between the leader and the rank and file; that poses no problem in today’s world. And it is not being suggested that a party that has its leader incarcerated cannot perform well. But the state in which the two political parties in Pakistan find themselves today perhaps the physical presence of their leaders will be necessary to fine tune their party machines and enthuse the cadres for the elections. Without their presence, for instance, it might be easier for the ‘king’s party’ (ruling PML-Q) to ‘poach’ on members of PPP and PML or induce large-scale defections after the polls.

There may well be a good second line of leadership of the two Pakistani parties but it is not clear if any of them is capable of injecting the kind of vitality that the two parties and their cadres will need during the actual electoral ‘battle’ in coming months. And it is going to be a ‘battle’ in more senses than one because the military machine in Pakistan can play any trick to ensure another victory—and a five-year term-- for the General. At the time Musharraf got himself ‘elected’ as president in 2002 there were widespread allegations of rigging; even western observers concurred. But after a round of shouts the issue became a closed chapter.

Perhaps not very different from the phenomenon witnessed in India, Pakistan’s two political majors have a strong ‘family’ domination, which has stilted the growth of strong leadership. When Benazir Bhutto decided to shift out of Pakistan and her husband, Asif Zardari, finally managed to get out of jail, it was he who was supposed to lead the PPP. This talk coincided with ‘rumours’ of a possible secret pact between the PPP and Musharraf. It was also said that Zardari will get the Mullahs of the six-party MAM alliance who had supported Musharraf to switch to his side. Of course, things did not work out as the Bhuttos planned and Asif Zardari found himself virtually fleeing the country.

Similarly, the Sharif family had an overbearing presence in the PML till it was forced to move to Saudi Arabia. He had even tried, in vain, to send some members of his family, including a brother, to Pakistan to take control of PML.

Before they can seriously challenge Musharraf, Benazir and Nawaz have to not only galvanise their parties but also to ensure some kind of integration and coordination among their cadres who will have to face not just an uncertain electorate but the ISI which had played such a key role in rigging the referendum that ‘elected’ Musharraf with, what was it, over 90 per cent votes.

The two leaders might also discover another major hurdle in their way to realising their dream. That is the fact that the western powers’ support to Musharraf personally has not diminished even as they suspect his commitment to fight the so-called war on terror and his desire to come clean on Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation activities of the past.

- Syndicate Features -

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