BB-Musharraf Deal on the verge of collapse?

US efforts for Musharraf-PPP deal hit snag
By Anwar Iqbal: Dawn, August 19, 2007

WASHINGTON, Aug 19: US envoy to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad has said he had a ‘good’ meeting with Pakistan People’s Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto, but refused to give details of his talks with the former prime minister.

Mr Khalilzad, the guest star at the Afghan national day reception here, has suddenly acquired a key place in media reports about Pakistan as the person who is trying to negotiate a deal between Ms Bhutto and President Gen Pervez Musharraf.

A seasoned diplomat, who represented the United States in Kabul and Baghdad before sent to the United Nations as envoy, Mr Khalilzad is known for obliging the media with one-liners on issues that other diplomats hesitate to discuss.

But this time, he is keeping his cards close to his chest. He dealt with the questions about his meeting with Ms Bhutto with a polite smile and gently steered the discussion away to his days in Kabul.

Other diplomatic sources in Washington, however, say that Washington’s effort to arrange a deal between the two Pakistani leaders appears to have hit a snag.

The sources say that while both Gen Musharraf and Ms Bhutto agree with the White House that there is a need to form a “moderate political centre” in Pakistan, they have serious differences over how to share power with each other.

It was US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who first told President Gen Musharraf that he needed to share power with politicians when she telephoned – twice in six hours – him last week.

According to diplomatic sources, Gen Musharraf agreed with the idea but is still reluctant to retire from the army while Ms Bhutto is reluctant to work under a military ruler.

She is believed to have told her American interlocutors that she would be committing a political suicide if she did so and that is why she wants Gen Musharraf to retire from the army before running for the new term as president.

At a recent meeting at New York’s Council on Foreign Relations, Ms Bhutto defended her decision to hold talks with a military dictator saying the negotiations were necessary to fight extremists and to give the peaceful transfer of power a chance.

Senior South Asian and Western diplomats in Washington say that while the Bush administration wants to help Gen Musharraf get another term as president, they tend to agree with Ms Bhutto on the question of uniform.

The arrangement the Americans are believed to be discussing with Gen Musharraf and Ms Bhutto has three key points: the president fulfilling his pledge to settle the uniform dispute before the elections, hold free and fair elections and ensure peaceful transfer of power to the winner.

But to reach an agreement acceptable to both Gen Musharraf and Ms Bhutto, they need a middle ground. Unfortunately, the British parliamentary system that Pakistan follows does not offer a middle ground.

A civilian president under this system is just a constitutional head with no power. A military ruler is too powerful. And in a controlled democratic set-up that now exists in Pakistan, a prime minister has little powers.

The problem that the Americans are facing is that both Gen Musharraf and Ms Bhutto have strong personalities. One cannot take orders from the other.

Faced with these difficult issues, the Americans are not trying to tell them what to do. Instead, they want them to evolve an arrangement which would allow the one to work with the other without impinging on each other’s powers.

What would that system be and how it would work, the Americans do not seem to know.

But the delay is already having its impact. In an interview to Canada’s CBC public television channel on Saturday, Ms Bhutto described the military as part of ‘the problem’.

“The military is the problem,” she said. “True democracy will deal with the social and economic needs of the people of Pakistan. … Our people have been thrown to the wolves. They’ve been thrown to the militants.”

Tough talks like these, or what Gen Musharraf has been saying in his speeches in Pakistan, make it even more difficult for the Americans to negotiate a deal.

AFP adds from Montreal: In her interview to the Canadian television channel, Ms Bhutto warned that the threat of terrorism in the tribal areas would not go away while a military government was in power.

“The root cause of the problem lies in the inability of the government of Pakistan to assert governmental authority and state authority in the tribal areas,” she said.

“As long as we have a cabinet ... that needs the threat of terrorism to sustain a military dictatorship in Pakistan we’re never going to get rid of terrorism,” she said of the leadership of President Gen Pervez Musharraf.

“The money that has gone into Pakistan so far has not led to the pacification of the tribal areas where people are desperately poor and the militants exploit this poverty to hire them as soldiers,” Ms Bhutto said.

Related Story:
Terrorism to go away with Musharraf, says Benazir
Daily Times, August 19, 2007

MONTREAL: Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto warned on Saturday that the threat of terrorism in the country’s northwest tribal zones would not go away while a military government was in power, agencies reported.

“The root cause of the problem lies in the government’s inability to enforce its writ in the tribal areas,” Bhutto told Canada’s CBC public television channel. “As long as we have a cabinet ... that needs the threat of terrorism to sustain a military dictatorship in Pakistan we’re never going to get rid of terrorism,” she said of the leadership of President Pervez Musharraf.

She met Musharraf in Abu Dhabi last month to discuss a possible power-sharing deal, ahead of the elections planned for around the end of 2007. Bhutto said she was open to such a deal as long as Musharraf gave up his role as head of the military. “The military is the problem,” she said. “True democracy will deal with the social and economic needs of the people of Pakistan.” She also called on the international community to support a transfer to a regular democratic government in Islamabad.

Bhutto’s premiership would depend on a constitutional amendment that would allow prime ministers to serve a third term. An amendment limiting PMs to two terms was inserted by Musharraf in 2003 to prevent Bhutto and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif - whom Musharraf ousted in the 1999 coup - from taking office a third time as both have ruled the country twice.

The United States has been pressuring Pakistan to crack down on parts of the region, which it says are harboring fighters loyal to the Taliban extremist movement battling US and international forces in Afghanistan.

“The money that has gone into Pakistan so far has not led to the pacification of the tribal areas where people are desperately poor and the militants exploit this poverty to hire them as soldiers,” Bhutto said.

“Our people have been thrown to the wolves. They’ve been thrown to the militants.” In another interview with a private TV channel, Bhutto termed the negotiation between the PPP and the government as a “struggle just for the restoration of democracy”.

She contradicted the impression that the talks between the PPP and the government were on the directives of Washington and London.

“The religious militancy can lead Pakistan to a civil war. Abhorrence against army among people living in Balochistan is increasing day-by-day due to military operation there. The solidarity and integrity of the country is in danger”, Bhutto said. “The Taliban have established their own government in the tribal areas. They impose tax on people and kill them by declaring them as spies.”

Daily Times Monitor adds: Separately, in an interview with Eric Margolis, she vowed to end her exile and go home “with or without an agreement” with Musharraf between September and December.

Bhutto confirmed she had indeed held rounds of intensive talks with Musharraf, former PM Nawaz Sharif and senior US State Department officials. She said that she had not reached any power sharing agreement with Musharraf but next two weeks would be crucial.

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