Post Musharraf Scenarios

After Musharraf – four possibilities
* Report says civilian-military power sharing agreement most likely outcome
Daily Times Monitor: May 29, 2007

LAHORE: The mounting pressure on President General Pervez Musharraf raises the question of what the political landscape would look like were he to be removed from power or assassinated. The Economist Business Asia intelligence unit in a report on Monday says that the most likely outcome would be some form of civilian-military power-sharing agreement, with the roles of president and chief of army staff separated.

However, there are other possibilities, including an Islamist coup, a full military takeover and, at the other extreme, a return to full democracy. These four potential outcomes are explored below:

Scenario 1: An Islamist coup: One challenge to Musharraf’s rule – albeit one relatively unlikely to succeed – could come from the Muslim political establishment. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal offered Musharraf its support in 2002, helping to legitimise his rule. It continued to support the government for a considerable time thereafter. However, the MMA has gradually become more disillusioned with Musharraf. Its members feel betrayed that the general has refused to honour his side of their agreement with him, for example by refusing to relinquish his position as army chief. As a result the MMA has gradually withdrawn its support.

In addition to the specific loss of support from the MMA, the president faces generalised hostility from many radical Muslims, who dislike his secularism, his liberal economic reforms and, above all, his ties to the US. Islamist elements have always been present in Pakistan, but their sentiments have been inflamed in recent years by Musharraf’s cooperation with the US-led “war on terror” and by the perception that domestic interests are being subverted in favour of US policies, the unit reported.

The report says if Islamist forces were to assassinate Musharraf with the idea of taking over the government, they would be unlikely to succeed in the latter. An Islamist coup could not hope to get off the ground without the backing of the army, and since the military establishment is largely secular, this support would be very unlikely to be forthcoming.

Scenario 2: Military takeover: The report says that another threat to the general’s grip on power comes from the opposite side of the political spectrum, the secular left, insofar as this grouping has the potential to weaken the military’s loyal support for Musharraf.

The ongoing controversy surrounding Gen Musharraf’s sacking of Pakistan’s chief justice has become heavily politicised. This, combined with the general’s ongoing attempt to ensure that he will be re-elected as president in the upcoming election (which is expected to occur later in 2007, before a general election), has finally caused the public to express its dissatisfaction with his administration’s lack of accountability and authoritarian bent. The recent violence in Karachi, for which the opposition and much of the public blame Musharraf and his supporters, has greatly intensified this antipathy.

According to the unit’s report, as long as Musharraf retains the support of the army, it is unlikely that any amount of popular disapproval will force him from power. The president’s cooperation with the US, although a liability for his general domestic popularity, has been a boon for the military, greatly enhancing its ability to secure US financial support and military equipment. Partly as a result, and also simply as a result of the fact that the president is concurrently army chief of staff, the military has enjoyed considerable influence in public life during Musharraf’s time in office. If, however, army leaders conclude that Musharraf’s reputation has been so badly damaged that it threatens the military’s credibility, they could force him to step down. Some commentators have argued that if unrest of the kind seen in Karachi spreads to Punjab, from where most of the military is recruited, the ensuing (probably violent) suppression of dissent could test the army’s loyalties more severely.

In this situation, the report says the army might simply oust Musharraf and launch a full military takeover of the government (or declare a state of emergency, which would amount to the same thing). This would ensure that the military retained a central role in the running of the country and the economy, and could be presented as a solution to Pakistan’s security problems. However, this positive spin would gain little traction, since both the Islamists and the general public would strongly oppose military rule. As a result, such a move would require strong-arm tactics –a re-enactment of Thailand’s recent peaceful military coup could not be hoped for. And although the US has been willing to overlook the Musharraf administration’s authoritarian excesses, continuing to offer financial support to its ally, a complete overthrow of democracy in Pakistan might force it to reconsider such indulgence.

Scenario 3: Return to full democracy: The report says the military’s central role in both politics and the economy means that a complete transition to democratic civilian rule will be difficult. This complicates matters for former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, whose recent efforts to reach some sort of power-sharing agreement with Musharraf suggest that she would be an important presence on the political scene were the general to be removed from power.

Given that her Pakistan People’s Party is part of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, Bhutto could expect to face considerable public scepticism were she to be seen cutting deals at this delicate juncture with the autocratic president. This is particularly the case now that the general’s government is being accused of violence as well as repression; Musharraf’s supporters are thought to have incited much of the bloodshed that scarred Karachi on May 12th. In essence, therefore, Bhutto faces the dilemma of retaining the moral high ground but being unable to return to Pakistan, or putting herself in a better position to assume power at the risk of damaging her democratic credentials.

For this reason, if General Musharraf were to be assassinated (as opposed to being deposed), it would perhaps be less complicated for Bhutto to return to power, as she could simply try to step into the resulting void.

Scenario 4: Civilian-military power-sharing: The most likely post-Musharraf scenario would be some sort of hybrid political-military government. This would respond to the public’s calls for increased democracy, but would still provide continuity and security. Since one of Musharraf’s most controversial decisions has been his refusal to relinquish his army role while president, his removal as president and chief of army staff would be the logical occasion for the civilian and military leadership to be separated again.

It is likely that Ahsan Saleem Hayat, the current vice chief of army staff, would be promoted to chief of army staff. In the best-case scenario the current Senate Chairman, Mohammadmian Soomro – who is empowered by the Constitution to take control upon the death or removal of the president – would lead a caretaker government until free and fair elections were held, and the military and the election winner would continue to cooperate thereafter.

The report says that this turn of events would also open the door for Bhutto to run legitimately for the country’s leadership (assuming that she could persuade the interim government to drop the corruption charges currently held against her and allow her to return to Pakistan). Such a benign outcome is by no means assured, however, as there is always the possibility that once the political and military leaderships are divided, the two camps will work to undermine each other instead of working together.

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