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Pakistan: After Emergency, Toward Elections

14 December, 2007

By Tauseef Zahid


Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Dec. 15 will lift the state of emergency he imposed Nov. 3. But before the restoration of Pakistan's Constitution, the charter will be amended to strengthen Musharraf's hand.

Given that he is no longer military chief, Musharraf could face challenges from the judicial and legislative branches of the Pakistani government. Meanwhile, with the exception of a handful of small political parties that have said they will boycott parliamentary elections set for Jan. 8, 2008, most of the opposition is fully engaged in the campaign process despite concerns regarding media restrictions, a pliant judiciary and fears of electoral fraud.

Musharraf, who has undertaken power-sharing with the new Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is concerned about sharing power with Parliament. The presence in Pakistan of two major opposition leaders and former prime ministers with record history of courruption, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, has heightened his fears. Though both are on the campaign trail, Bhutto and Sharif each face significant hurdles to taking power. Ideally for Musharraf, his allies in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) faction would emerge as the largest party in the 342-seat legislature.

Given the unrest in Pakistan, this will be very difficult to pull off. Depending on how free and fair the elections are, Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) could emerge as the largest or second-largest party in parliament.

Of course, the establishment, especially the intelligence agencies, will try to engage in Pakistan's now-notorious "electoral engineering" in a bid to yield Musharraf's desired outcome in the elections. But the government knows it must tread carefully, lest it prompt a massive outcry against vote-rigging -- charges that could stick. The establishment's goal is to tamper with the voting process such that charges of foul play do not stick and the ruling PML comes out on top again.

Speculations within Pakistan are rife regarding the actual breakdown of seats under such a managed vote. One version has the PML gaining 115 seats, followed by PPP taking 90, the remnants of the Islamist Mutahiddah Majlis-i-Amal alliance (whose two main component parties seem to have parted ways) getting 45, Sharif's PML faction attaining 40, the Mutahiddah Qaumi Movement securing 20 and the secular Pashtun Awami National Party winning 12. Regardless of how things actually break down, Musharraf would like former Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi to be prime minister.

But if the PPP does come in first place, Musharraf will have to cut a deal with Bhutto whereby she could become prime minister -- albeit devoid of much power, as was the case when she was prime minister during the 1990s. Before she could become prime minister, however, the establishment would need to get rid of the constitutional clause preventing candidates from seeking a third term as prime minister. Musharraf would want Bhutto preoccupied with a fractious coalition, which would be easier for him to hold at bay, so he can keep Kayani and the generals happy. Musharraf is all too aware of how two former presidents fell from power in the 1990s in the tug-of-war between the president and a prime minister.

As was the case in the past when there was a troika between the army chief, president and prime minister, the army will have the final word in a duel between a president and a prime minister. All things being equal, the military would like to work with Musharraf, since he will always be one of their own as a military retiree. But those ties are not absolute; their continuance depends upon Musharraf's ability to contain parliament, the judiciary, the media and civil society.

From above it is clear that Pakistan is going to remain on the path of turmoil and decline. The same faces under the same system is going to strengthen feudalism, their historic corruption, fuel ethnic strife, strengthen separatist movements in NWFP and Baluchistan due to weak centre and keep Pakistani Army involve in politics rather than in war games.

The lasting solution can only be one which represents people of Pakistan and unite them ideologically, bring economic stability, rule of law, independent foreign policy and gave the armed forces confidence to leave the political arena for  a sincere civilian leadership. This system can not be anything other than Islam or Nizam-e-Khilafat/Caliphate.

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